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CHICAGO – With high schoolers set to return to class in two weeks, bargaining is underway between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools on the safest way to reopen. The union wants high school reopenings to be pushed back by a week, but Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says there’s no basis for it. 

Alarmed by a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city and around the country, coupled with worry about variants and younger people driving transmission, the union is seeking a delay.

“Rushing right now to an arbitrary return date that coincides, potentially, with a surge doesn’t make a lot of sense to us,” said Jen Johnson of CTU.

CPS high school students are scheduled to return to in-person learning on Monday, April 19.

The union is seeking “a centralized plan to vaccinate students aged 16 and older” before students return, according to a statement from CTU president Jesse Sharkey. CTU also wants family members of students to receive doses and become fully vaccinated.

“We’re at the table right now asking the district to find a way to help vaccinate our high school students and their vulnerable family members,” said Mueze Bawany, a CPS teacher.

Discussion continues on the number of students that will be allowed in the building once doors open. CPS says it expects 70% of students to return to class four days a week. CTU wants that number reduced by two. 

“The only way to keep things safe in high school is to have low enough student attendance numbers so that you can have social distancing. That’s a function of schedules,” Sharkey said.

However, Lightfoot wants schools to push forward as planned.

As part of that negotiation in writing, we set forth a plan for when schools would open, but also if the conditions warranted to where, when we would close by classroom, by school and by district. That’s already baked into the plan,” she said. “So we’re going to follow the plan. There’s no basis for us to renegotiate that.”

The union insists, however, that a delay of a week would go a long way in sorting out the details.

“We want to be able to trust what CPS says,” Sharkey said. “But we have a less than perfect record of that.”

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