CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union has made a new proposal to Chicago Public Schools to hold remote classes for part of next week and return to in-person learning on Jan. 18.
In a press release, the CTU said their proposal includes having educators handing out devices that have been warehoused and unused and signing up students for COVID-19 testing when they pick up the devices. The proposal has remote learning starting Wednesday, Jan. 12 through Friday, Jan. 14.
The union said this latest proposal will protect teachers, students and staff amidst the latest Covid surge.
A statement in response to the CTU proposal released by CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the following:
“CTU leadership, you’re not listening. The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”
In a detailed response released by CPS, the district acknowledged agreements on several front with the CTU, as well as hope that a deal can be reached to get students back into classes next week. However, the district and the union remain apart on several issues.
CPS notably outright rejects the union’s proposal to delay in-person learning until January 18, stating “science supports that the safest place for students to be is in school.”
The district states that it is not authorized under state law to authorize district-wide remote learning, saying that remote days across the district could not count as instructional days. The union is proposing a pause to in-person learning based on certain COVID-19 metrics.
CTU also proposed an opt-out screening test program that tests at least 10% of the student and staff population each week, though the district rejected the proposal on the grounds that such a program would be implemented with explicit parental consent for each child.
In the midst of a testing shortage, Governor JB Pritzker announced Saturday that his administration, through Abbott and SHIELD Illinois, will be providing 350,000 rapid antigen tests to CPS. Pritzker added that he is “committed to seeing our kids and teachers safely in classrooms ASAP.”
The district has additionally rejected a proposal that no union member would lose pay, reiterating that staff who didn’t work during this period will not be paid.
The union also proposed expedited arbitration, asking for an arbitrator selection within seven days of execution to resolve certain disputes. CPS is deferring to the CBA’s existing provisions on arbitration and grievances.
CPS and CTU have come to an agreement on providing KN95 masks for all staff and students, reinstating health screeners on a school-by-school basis as needed and the providing of weekly COVID-19 testing to all students and staff.
CPS also agreed to several other proposals, including allowing unpaid leave of absence based on various requests, creating a contact tracing team at each school and utilizing incentives to help substitutes accept assignments.
School has been canceled since Wednesday after the union voted against in-person learning citing a surge in Covid cases in schools.
When asked if parents can expect classes to be canceled Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot mentioned recent progress at the bargaining table, but said the deal needs to be “fair, reasonable and covers the entire school year.”
“I’m not going to go back to the table again and again and again and say ‘pretty please’ to the CTU leadership, to get our kids in school,” she said.
The union told teachers not to show up to schools starting Wednesday while both sides negotiate. The move just two days after students returned from winter break prompted district officials to cancel classes for students in the roughly 350,000-student district during negotiations, saying there’s no plan to return to districtwide remote instruction.
A group of parents also filed a lawsuit late Thursday trying to force teachers back into classrooms, alleging that the union’s actions are an illegal strike.
School districts nationwide have confronted the same pandemic issues, with most opting to stay open while ramping up virus testing, tweaking protocols and other adjustments in response to the shifting pandemic. But a growing number of U.S. districts, including some large school systems, have gone back to remote learning as infections soar and sideline staff members.