CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools students who recently returned to in-person instruction were back to learning remotely Wednesday, after the Chicago Teachers Union voted to refuse to return to schools and threatens a strike over COVID-19 concerns.
On Wednesday evening, the district announced that remote learning will continue for Thursday.
As part of the first phase of its reopening plan, CPS resumed in-person learning a couple weeks ago for pre-kindergarten and students with special needs who opted in. About 19% of eligible students came back for in-person classes.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, the CTU sent an email to its members calling on them to work remotely in defiance of the district’s plans for reopening. Teachers who had been working with pre-K and students with special needs would no longer return to schools.
“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 said.
Teachers of kindergarten through eighth grade students were expected to return to schools on Monday, but did not, so the district pushed their start day to Wednesday, but again teachers did not return.
Just one of the sticking points for CTU is that CPS has not agreed to allow staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before requiring them to appear in-person.
CPS staff became eligible for vaccinations this past Monday, while the district has previously said they expect to start giving them shots in mid-February.
“We see Evanston, we say Skokie, we see Maine South, we see private schools in the city are vaccinating their teachers and getting them back into school,” CTU VIce President Stacy Davis Gates said.
District officials contend it is possible to safely return to schools even without being vaccinated. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said CPS has spent over $100 million on HEPA filters, face coverings and testing.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the three weeks students were back in school were “proof positive” that it’s possible to safely reopen schools following .
“Schools are not generally the source of spread, particularly when you invest in the precautions and mediation efforts like we have… but certainly I would like to see more movement on the part of CTU so that we can get a deal done,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot said the district still expects K-8th Grade students to return to schools.
“It’s still our intent to have students return on Monday,” Lightfoot said.
Former and present principals offered their own plan for reopening Wednesday, saying the district should limit reopening to 50-100 schools instead of the more than 400, while continuing to open a few more every few weeks.
After the CTU called for a mediator to broker an agreement, Lightfoot agreed, saying they have offered to work with one before.