Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot has ordered Chicago’s public school teachers to return to classrooms this week, ending these school district’s months-long virtual learning system, but the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) says that, if they are forced to return to work, they will call a strike, even though they are currently bound by a contract and a such a strike would likely be illegal.
Lightfoot said in an interview Monday that CTU refused to reach a deal with the school district during negotiations over the weekend, promoting the district to push the start of in-person learning back to Tuesday. But, the mayor added, if a deal cannot be reached, teachers who refuse to return to classrooms will be locked out of their virtual learning software.
“Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson warned Sunday night that staff who don’t show up at its facilities Monday to start preparing for the students’ return – which the district has now pushed back to Tuesday – will lose access to their remote teaching tools,” Fox News reported.
“Why should Chicago stand out when everybody else across the country has been able to safely do this?” Jackson asked. “Why should CPS stand out when private and parochial schools in Chicago have been operating since the beginning of this school year?”
Indeed, private, charter and Catholic schools have been operating in person since September with no apparent problems. But Chicago teachers insist that Chicago’s public school classrooms are not safe and have, as of last week, demanded that all teachers be vaccinated before anyone returns to in-person learning. Those teachers who live with individuals who are “medically fragile” should also be given the option to work from home indefinitely, according to CTU’s demands.
Lightfoot scoffed at the idea that CPS is unprepared for students or teachers, and she insists significant measures have been taken to guarantee safety.
“Let me be very clear: Our schools are safe,” she told MSNBC on Monday. “We’ve invested over $100 million dollars in ventilation, other safety protocols, making sure that we have masks, safety health screening, temperature checks — all the things that you would expect that the CDC guidance has told us that we know makes sense to mitigate any issues in schools. We’ve looked at and followed every study across the globe, including here in Chicago, by our local experts.”
“We’ve had three weeks of safely implementing our plan until the teachers union blew it up,” she added, being specific about who was at fault for the situation.
The union, meanwhile, says that if CPS makes good on its threat to lock out absent teachers, they’ll call their second strike in two years — a strike that may be illegal, given that teachers and the district are operating under an existing contract.
“CPS never showed up at bargaining Sunday,” the union said. “After hours of waiting, CTU leadership was told the CPS team would not come to bargaining unless we made massive concessions: on CDC health metrics; on vaccinations; on giving time for vaccination before reopening; and accommodations for over 2,000 members who have medically vulnerable people in their households.”
CPS says it was CTU that refused to negotiate.
“We have been waiting all day [Sunday] for in-person negotiations to begin,” Lightfoot said Monday. “We will stay up all night to get a deal done. We have been waiting on the CTU. ‘Where are they? Why haven’t they come back to us?'”
“Our bargaining team was told by CTU leadership that they were unavailable to meet until they could develop a response to our most recent offer,” CPS added in a statement. “Our team has been standing by all day.”
Lightfoot later added that “remote learning is failing too many of our kids” and noted that CTU, which has dubbed the call to return to work “racist” and “sexist,” is likely costing low-income students access to quality education.
Both sides are now dug in, and the union may vote as early as Monday afternoon on a plan to strike, according to the Chicago Tribune.
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