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CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools have asked parents of students already attending in-person learning to stay home Wednesday after the union threatened a strike.

On Tuesday afternoon, CTU sent an email to its members that said, in part: “Short of some late-breaking change, *all* CTU members will begin working remotely tomorrow, Wednesday, January 27. And if CPS retaliates against members for exercising their right to a safe workplace, *all* CTU members will stop working on Thursday and set up picket lines at their schools.”

The email re-affirms the results of a weekend vote of CTU membership, in its desire to defy CPS orders for K-8 teachers and staff to report back to the classroom on Jan. 25, with students, who’ve opted to return to in-person instruction, coming back Feb. 1.

CTU is now calling for a mediator to broker an agreement on a safe path to returning to schools.

Despite reassurances from CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson, that tens of millions of dollars have been spent to upgrade sanitation and filtration systems in schools, the union contends it does not trust the measures and points to clusters of staff contracting COVID-19, who’ve been inside schools during the long shutdown. 

CTU spokesperson, Chris Geovanis, confirms the set-up to a potential teachers’ strike. 

“It’s on the Mayor,” said Geovanis. “The only way a strike can be provoked is if the Mayor locks out our teachers.”

The district said they provided the union with a comprehensive plan on Tuesday. CPS proposed a number of additional steps, it says “addresses most of the union’s remaining concerns”

Among the changes, CPS says it will increase COVID testing. School-based staff will be offered tests twice a month, and students who attend school in 10 zip codes with the highest COVID-19 positivity rates will be offered free COVID tests each month.

CPS will prioritize vaccinations for in-person school staff who work at schools located in areas with the highest COVID-19 positivity rates. 

Additionally, the district says it will now work with teachers who, while not having a pre-existing condition themselves, will work with those who are primary caregivers to those who are, increasing accommodation levels while meeting necessary staffing to ensure all students who return can receive a quality education in a safe environment.

“While we are greatly concerned for our youngest and highest-need students, who are suddenly without a safe, in-person learning option, we are continuing to make all possible efforts to reach an agreement that addresses the union’s priorities and provides families a much-needed resolution. To help make that a reality, CPS today provided union leadership with an updated comprehensive proposal, which addresses most of the union’s remaining concerns and builds on the progress that has been made over several weeks of discussion. These improvements, listed below, will help ensure we have the safest possible learning environments, and we believe can serve as the foundation for a deal,” CPS said in a letter to families.

Linda Perales, a K-2 cluster teacher, says she was locked out of her virtual classroom two weeks ago, when she opted to continue to work from home.

“I have practiced my right work in a safe environment and not entered a school building because I know that CPS claims that they have COVID testing, that they have cleaning and sanitation and air purification and that it’s safe. But we know the reality,” said Perales during a Tuesday morning press conference.

According to CTU numbers, just 19-percent of Pre-K and cluster program students opted to return to in-person instruction. CPS says of the 191,000 K-8 students in the District roughly 71,000 said they would be opting for in-person instruction; leaving 120,000 students on remote instruction.

During a Tuesday evening press conference, Mayor Lightfoot expressed frustration.

“We’re one year removed from a five-year teacher’s contact and yet here we are again,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “This instability and chaos serves no one.”

CTU held another rally shortly after the press conference.

“There’s no clear plan for us,” teacher Tiffany Price said. “We want to return to school but we want to return to school safely.”

Mayor Lightfoot said that they hope to resume in-person learning soon after Tuesday’s pause.