Video: The CPS students return to class but the bad blood between Mayor Lightfoot and the teachers’ union looks set to linger. The struggle to redraw the map of Chicago’s neighborhoods drags on. And more and more candidates are emerging for hotly contested statewide seats. All this with our Spotlight Politics team. (Produced by Nick Blumberg)
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union have approved a safety agreement with the city that will expand testing, contact tracing and mask distribution, as Chicago public school students return to their classrooms after five days at the House.
CTU rank and file members signed the agreement on Wednesday, two days after the union’s elected delegates voted to suspend industrial action that saw the vast majority of teachers refuse to work in person amid a spike of COVID-19 cases.
But the decision was made by a narrow margin, with just under 56% of voting members voting in favor of the deal.
“This vote is a clear show of displeasure with the boss,” CTU Chairman Jesse Sharkey said Wednesday. “It is outrageous that teachers, school nurses, counselors and many more had to endure a week of lockdown by the mayor just to secure a commitment from his negotiating team to provide every student with an N95 mask in the event pandemic.”
Teachers returned to their schools Tuesday and classes across the district resumed Wednesday morning after being canceled for five consecutive school days as CTU and the city negotiated the new agreement.
According to the CPS, 89% of CTU teachers reported for work on Wednesday.
As part of the agreement, CPS has agreed to conduct regular COVID-19 testing, in which 10% of students, randomly selected, will be tested weekly going forward. The union initially pushed for opt-out testing to be universal, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot vehemently rejected the plan, calling it “morally repugnant” to test children without their parents’ explicit permission.
CPS and the union will work together to “increase student participation in student testing and vaccination with the goal of achieving 100% participation by February 1,” according to the agreement. Teachers who volunteer to call parents as part of phone banking efforts will be paid for their time, additional tests will be sent to schools where confirmed cases are increasing and students who are removed from class with potential symptoms of COVID-19 will be tested.
Additionally, the district will provide KN95 masks for staff and students. Schools may also decide to reinstate a health check for those who enter their buildings.
The parties also reached agreement on a metric that can be used to decide when individual schools should switch to remote learning. Schools would halt in-person learning if 40% of students were isolated or quarantined, or if 30% of school staff were absent due to COVID-19 for two consecutive days.
City officials have repeatedly rejected calls for district-wide remote learning, citing concerns about loss of contact with thousands of students, loss of learning and pressure on student mental health. These issues arose when the CPS became totally remote during the height of the pandemic.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that provides predictability and stability for the remainder of the school year,” Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement on Wednesday. “We all agree that we must prioritize the health and well-being of everyone in our school communities, including our children, families and staff.”
Sharkey said this week that no one on the union’s negotiating team necessarily believes the deal was a “home run”, but added that the deal is one they believe is “something on which we we can hold our heads up high.”
Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told WTTW News she’s heard “a lot of anxiety” from some teachers who feel the deal doesn’t go far enough.
“There’s not all the school districts just outside of Chicago have, quite frankly,” she said on “Chicago Tonight” on Tuesday, “but they also have leadership in those spaces that are clear about working with families and educators and not making people who are in the school community expendable.
Heather Cherone contributed to this report.
Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson | [email protected] | (773) 509-5431