Chicago Teachers Union Poised to Strike After Mayor Lightfoot Orders Return to School

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters after visiting preschool classrooms at Dawes Elementary School in Chicago, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Monday was the first day of optional in-person learning for preschoolers and some special education students in Chicago Public Schools after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. …
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is poised to strike following an order by Mayor Lori Lightfoot that teachers return to in-person learning in their classrooms.

CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) failed to meet over the weekend to reach an agreement on how to get students back into in-classroom learning despite the coronavirus crisis. A strike would mean students will also not receive remote instruction.

“I know we can get a deal done,” Lightfoot said, reported the Chicago Sun Times Sunday night. “I’ve told my team, if it takes us staying up all night, let’s get it done.”

According to the report, elementary and middle school teachers have been ordered to report to schools Monday to teach their students remotely. If they refuse to show up for work, CPS will block them from teaching remotely and will no longer pay them.

The district already agreed to push back reopening the schools for in-classroom learning after the union voted to defy an order to return to schools.

“The teachers union has already voted to strike if its members are locked out,” the Times reported. “CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the union’s House of Delegates would convene in the case of lockouts to determine a walkout date.”

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said she was frustrated at the failure to reach an agreement.

“We can do this,” she said. “Why should Chicago stand out when everybody else across the country has been able to safely do this? Why should CPS stand out when private and parochial schools in Chicago have been operating since the beginning of the school year?”

A report released in December by the Association of Christian Schools International showed that 90 percent of Christian schools opened the 2020-2021 academic year with in-person instruction as planned, despite the pandemic.

Jackson said the district’s thousands of black students have not responded to questions about returning to in-person instruction, raising the concern they are not even participating in virtual learning.

Sharkey reportedly said the disagreements between CTU and the district could be solved but the union is “not seeing the compromises at the table that we would need.”

While there have been some reported agreements on health and safety protocols, ventilation in the schools, and a contact tracing program, still being discussed are larger issues such as teacher vaccinations prior to a return to in-person instruction and greater remote teaching accommodations.

The school district has already invested $100 million in virus-related safety precautions, including PPE, air purifiers, and additional custodial staff.


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