Chicago Teachers Union Preparing to Strike over Plan to Reopen Schools

Protesters hold signs during the Occupy City Hall Protest and Car Caravan hosted by Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago, Illinois, on August 3, 2020. - Teachers and activists hold car caravan all over the country on August 3, 2020 to demand adequate classroom safety measures as schools debate reopening. (Photo …
KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

According to reports, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is mulling a strike this week over the city’s plans to reopen schools.

The Chicago Public School System (CPS) says that schools will reopen to in-person education by April 19, but the CTU still claims the coronavirus makes it too “dangerous” for teachers to return to the classroom, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The inside rumors come on the heels of the union’s request to allow for a week’s delay in the reopening, but city officials refused to agree to the union’s demands.

Still, the CTU has signaled they do not want to return to the classroom unless there is “adequate movement” with negotiations with the CPS.

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told members that CPS officials are using the coronavirus and reopening as a tactic. “We are pushing for our demands to be met. We are going to remain hopeful the table will loosen up, and they will meet us halfway,” she said.

However, CTU chief of staff Jennifer Johnson also noted that the union is preparing for a walkout.

“If we still need to walk out, we have to be prepared to refuse,” she said.

For his part, CTU President Jesse Sharkey pointed to the rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the Windy City, and he worries these numbers pose a danger to returning teachers.

One major bone of contention between the parties is the city’s plans to vaccinate high school students 16 and older. Union officials say the vaccinations are not occurring quickly enough to safeguard teachers by April 19.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, though, claims that the vaccinations are on schedule and there is no reason to push off reopening the schools. The elementary schools are already open.

“After successfully opening elementary schools earlier this year, we are eager to provide our high school students with the same opportunity for in-person learning later this month,” CPS said in a message last Friday. “While our discussions with the Chicago Teachers Union are ongoing, we remain fully committed to welcoming back all interested high school students on Monday, April 19.”

Arwady also said the reopening plan includes a pause to in-person learning if vaccinations and infection rates head in the wrong direction.

City health officials have reported the recent rise in the city’s coronavirus numbers has occurred in the 18 to 39 age group. “Average daily cases in that age range were up to 326, and its seven-day rolling average positivity rate was 5.6%,” the Tribune added.

The Tribune stated:

Prevalence among that age range has continued to increase, to 338 average daily cases and a 6.1% positivity rate as of Thursday, the most recent data available because of the way rolling averages are calculated. The citywide positivity rate for all age groups was most recently 5.7%, up from 5.1% the prior week.

But city data also shows a rise in cases among those 17 and younger, who currently have the highest positivity rate among all age groups in the city at 7.5%, the same as one week prior. That rate has increased over each of the past few days and trended up in recent weeks, starting the month at 6.1%.

CPS reported 1,024 adults and 103 students had the coronavirus since March. The union’s agreement states that in-person teaching will be paused if positivity rates continue to grow for seven days in a row.

Relations between the teachers union and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot — who ostensibly controls the schools — continue to be strained. In February, Lightfoot accused the union of acting more like a “political party” than a teachers union.

“When you have unions that have other aspirations beyond being a union, and maybe being something akin to a political party, then there’s always going to be conflict,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor’s comments came after the union was again threatening to strike over orders to return to the classroom.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Facebook at facebook.com/Warner.Todd.Huston.

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