Chicago Schools CEO: Half of Teachers Failed to Show Up for Work, ‘Pressured’ by Teachers’ Union

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Approximately half of all teachers in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district who were ordered to return to work and in-person instruction did not show up Monday after being “pressured” to stay out by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), said the district’s CEO.

According to a report at NBC5 Chicago News, CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said Tuesday 60.2 percent of all school-based staff who were ordered to report to work did so, including 49.7 percent of all teachers and 70 percent of all paraprofessionals.

Jackson said the fact that 60 percent of all staff returned was actually “significant, considering the fact that they were pressured” not to show up by the teachers’ union, which continues to cite safety issues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The report noted Jackson said:

We have sent notices to staff who did not return to ensure that our expectations are clear. And we are optimistic that more staff will report to work in the coming days. If staff choose not to attend and support the students who are relying on them, we will handle those on a school-by-school and case-by-case basis.

The CEO continued that the school district has an “absent without leave” policy which states “individuals who are refusing to report to work and who will be considered absent without leave will face progressive discipline.”

According to the news report, when asked if the CPS policy could lead to teacher firings, Jackson replied, “It is a progressive discipline policy.”

“So, we hope that by reminding folks of the expectations – look, at the end of the day, it serves no one’s interest to fire teachers, so I’m not going to lead with that,” Jackson said, continuing:

But we do have a clear policy around expectations to return to work. We should also be reminded that thousands of individuals in our school system have been reporting to work since the pandemic began: our nutrition support staff, our principals and administrators, some central office staff, as well as security and others throughout the building.

“We fully expect teachers to be treated the absolute same way as any other employee,” Jackson said. “If they are in essential functions, we are asking them to come back to work and failure to do so we will follow the progressive discipline process.”

CPS is engaged in a phased reopening plan in which some students are scheduled to return to the classroom next week for the first time since March, when school closures began due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC5 reported CTU President Jesse Sharkey said 1,800 of the approximately 5,000 teachers who were ordered to return on Monday had requested special accommodations, but only 600 received them.

Among the issues about which CTU has complained is that the district has not developed a full coronavirus testing and contact tracing program. The union said teachers who did return to school as ordered also noted “problems with cleanliness, safety protocols, ventilation and more.”

On Sunday, over 30 Chicago aldermen signed a letter to Jackson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in which they requested CPS take nine steps prior to allowing students return to class, including setting health criteria for in-person instruction and addressing connectivity issues for remote learners.

In December, the district endorsed an open letter signed at the Chicago Sun Times by a group of 17 physicians that stated reopening schools is “essential and safe.”

In its reopening plan announcement, CPS stated:

While COVID-19 remains an incredibly serious threat to our community, the public health data in Chicago and across the nation show that schools are rarely a source of COVID-19 transmission. With this new understanding of COVID-19, we must challenge the assumption that school buildings must stay closed and do everything we can to bring students back to school.

CPS said in a statement to NBC5 regarding the teachers’ union’s complaints, the union “has not identified any area where the district’s plan falls short of public health guidelines and CTU’s last minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning.”

CTU organizer Jhoanna Maldonado, however, responded the district is “trying to divide and conquer our staffs” and that the union is ready to “take whatever actions we need to take if there is retaliation” against teachers who failed to report to work.


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