CHICAGO — School is about to start and a familiar battle between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union is brewing.
Jesse Sharkey, the president of the CTU, said that educators will return to the classrooms, but that a lot of questions have gone unanswered regarding safety concerns amid rising COVID-19 cases.
Sharkey spoke in Pilsen on Wednesday, discussing the stalling of negotiations between the two parties, demanding clarity on several issues, including when a potential return to remote learning would come into play.
Sharkey added that social distancing within schools remains an issue.
“Last year we had six feet, that was extremely important during meal time for example, when kids take off their mask. This year they want three feet where possible, we aren’t even sure what ‘where possible’ means,” Sharkey said.
Another issue brought up by the CTU is the CPS only requiring quarantine for unvaccinated students who are exposed to the virus, leaving open the possibility of some split classrooms.
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“In grades 6 through 12, there’s going to be a lot of mix and match. We need staff and support from the district,” Sharkey said.
Teachers are set to return to classrooms next week, with students returning just before Labor Day.
“They’re not willing to make those commitments, we are not willing to sign without those. So we have an impasse,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey assured parents that teachers will come back to classrooms, even without an agreement in hand. Sharkey left open the possibility for a change of plans if an agreement is not reached soon.
“So at this point, if we go back in and there’s a surge, we would count on the Mayor to do the right thing, and if not, we will take matters into our own hands,” Sharkey said.
Amid doubts raised by members of the CTU, James Gherardi of CPS offered a statement on the ongoing negotations.
“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students and staff. All of the district’s health and safety protocols are in alignment with the health and safety guidelines recommended by the CDC, IDPH and CDPH, and in some cases go beyond them. It is disappointing that the CTU is rejecting science for their own gain and continues to second guess health experts and express their own unscientific opinions about health related matters. The CTU appears to be committed to spreading doubt instead of preparing for the upcoming school year after the past year’s immense disruption to learning. CPS looks forward to opening five days a week, in-person beginning Monday, August 30.”