Video: One-on-one with Mayor Lightfoot amid the ongoing standoff with the teachers union. (Produced by Paris Schutz)
While some school buildings may be open to students, Chicago Public Schools canceled Friday classes as negotiations continue with the Chicago Teachers Union, whose members refuse to work in-person until a safety agreement is reached.
“Our schools are the best, safest place for students to be during this pandemic, and we are working tirelessly to get everyone back in class every day,” CPS said in a letter to families Thursday evening. “We will continue working with CTU to resolve this situation and will provide you with ongoing updates as the week continues.”
The district said a small number of schools that may have enough staff on hand can invite students back into their classrooms Friday. But CPS is also telling parents not to send their kids back to school without first being told to do so by their principal.
The CTU announced Tuesday night that its rank-and-file members had voted in favor of a labor action that would see those members refuse to go into schools until the union reached an agreement with the city over enhanced health and safety protocols.
Union leaders insist teachers are willing to work, albeit remotely, and have said their action does not constitute a strike. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, however, has disagreed, referring to the union’s action as an “illegal work stoppage” and a “strike.”
As that labor action extends into its second day, both the CTU and the city have filed unfair labor practice complaints against each other with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which is the first step toward potential legal action.
Lightfoot on Wednesday said the city had already “taken some steps” toward a possible lawsuit and is seeking a cease-and-desist order against the union. The CTU’s complaint alleges the city locked out union members from their remote workspaces Wednesday, preventing them from working outside of their schools.
About 10% of CTU teachers showed up in-person to their schools Wednesday. That total was slightly higher Thursday, as about 13% of teachers and 15% of substitutes went to their schools.
Lightfoot has said those who remain remote will stay in a no-pay status.
Video: A third day of no school for Chicago Public Schools students. The district canceled class Friday. Among the issues dividing CPS and the teachers' union: COVID testing. (Produced by Amanda Vinicky)
Even as students and the vast majority of staffers have stayed home this week, the school district reported record-high numbers of new cases and of individuals who are in quarantine.
Per the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, 422 students and 271 adults within CPS tested positive on Tuesday. There were also 2,377 adults and 9,072 students in quarantine or isolation as of Wednesday evening — and that student total had jumped by more than 1,000 in just a day.
According to Chicago Department of Public Health data, the city is currently averaging just under 5,000 new COVID-19 cases and 112 COVID-related hospitalizations per day through Wednesday. Chicago’s positivity rate currently sits at 23%.
Union officials concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in schools have asked the district to increase regular testing, provide masks to all students and staff, provide a “major increase” in vaccinations at schools and require those who’ve had COVID-19 to get a negative test before returning to school.
Earlier this week, CPS made an offer to the union that would set rules for each school to transition to remote learning based on the number of teachers and students out sick with COVID-19. That proposal also offers increased contact tracing capability, approximately 200,000 KN95 masks for staff and reinstituting health screeners and temperature checks at schools.