Return to classroom battle continues between CPS and CTU

Coronavirus

CHICAGO — The battle continues Tuesday between Chicago Public Schools and teachers over plans to bring students back to the classroom.

Some 5,000 staff members were set to return to the classroom Monday, just six days before Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s stay-at-home order expires.

But the Chicago Teachers Union is still saying that ventilation systems should be tested in older buildings, while pushing for fast-tracked hiring for school nurses.

Teachers also want school workers to be granted an exception for working remotely if they have family members who are high-risk.

The calls were also followed up by 32 aldermen, with a letter written to the mayor as well as CPS CEO Janice Jackson, highlighting their concerns about returning to the classroom.

Monday night, Jackson responded saying, “despite what you have heard, we believe there is a broad agreement with CTU on all of their in-school safety concerns including, but not limited to, ventilation, PPE, contact tracing, Covid testing, and school and district level safety committees.”

Teachers at the Brentano Math and Science Academy decided to work outside in the cold Monday. A sign they don’t believe their classrooms are safe enough to have students return like the district has planned.

The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association is backing CTU on the matter.

The two organizations just held a joint press conference Tuesday, where it was passionately expressed that the district still is not ready to start in-person learning for Chicago students, despite what CPS is saying.

“So far the district has failed to address remote learning and equity and lied about it. Failed to plan for staffing inadequacies and lied about it. And failed to staff schools that would create a genuine in person learning experience and misleading parents about it. Again, would you trust your life and your children’s lives with people who behave like this? The majority of principals, teachers and parents of mostly Black and Brown students in the community we serve have clearly said no,” said Troy LaRaviere, President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

CPS held a press conference Tuesday morning and responded to comments from CTU.

In it, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced half of teachers expected on Monday did not come back.  

“We have sent notices to staff who did not return to ensure that our expectations are clear,” she said.

Overall, 62 percent of staff members showed up compared to 83 percent of employees the first two days after winter break last year. Jackson says teachers who fail to report will be disciplined.

“If staff choose not to attend and support the students who are reliant on them, we will handle those on a school by school and case by case basis,” Jackson said.

After Jackson’s press conference, Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates posted a fiery Tweet.

“My take away from the CPS press conference: Aldermen are hypocritical. Black and Brown families don’t know any better. CTU members believe they are special flowers. This is a pandemic. People are dying and we are being berated,” she tweeted.

Mayor Lightfoot backs the phased reopening.

“I certainly understand the concern of teachers,” Lightfoot said. “What I would say to others outside of the school system is this go into your neighborhood schools, elected officials, go into the neighborhood schools, see the measures that have been put in place in those schools.”

The Chicago Teachers Union said it has a contractual and legal right to refuse to work in a workplace they believe is unsafe. There is no decision about a work stoppage, but anxiety is growing.

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