Chicago Teachers Union Would Require Eligibility for ‘Full’ Vaccination Prior to Reopening Schools

TINLEY PARK, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 26: SrA Serena Nicholas of the Illinois Air National Guard administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Larcetta Linear at a mass vaccination center established at the Tinley Park Convention Center on January 26, 2021 in Tinley Park, Illinois. The site is the first large-scale vaccination center …
Scott Olson/Getty

A proposed deal between Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) to reopen schools for in-person learning would begin phasing in students into classrooms this week and require all teachers be eligible for “full” vaccination against the coronavirus before returning into school buildings.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) and CPS CEO Janice Jackson said Sunday during a news conference they were hopeful the union would agree to the proposal and abandon their threats of another strike, reported the Chicago Sun Times.

The union, however, said an “agreement” has not been formalized and the proposal is merely a “framework that all of our members must first review and assess.”

According to the Sun Times, the proposal states in-classroom learning for Pre-K and special education programs would begin Thursday. K-5 teachers would return February 22 and students on March 1. Sixth through eighth grade teachers would resume March 1, and their students one week later.

Teachers union members would not be required to resume in-classroom instruction “prior to having the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.”

Additionally, COVID testing would be offered to all staff returning to in-person learning and all students, age ten or older.

The proposal also states in-person learning would be paused for two weeks if the Chicago test positivity rate increases for seven consecutive days, rises 15 percent daily compared to the previous week and increases at least ten percent on the seventh day.

The plan would require accommodations for union members, including one allowing staff with high-risk household members to continue working remotely.

According to the report, about 350 CPS employees have already been granted that accommodation, but approximately 2,000 are still waiting for approval.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the vaccination timeline was still a sticking point.

“Why are they trying to make people come back two weeks after the first vaccine dose and not two weeks after the second vaccine dose? It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I agree. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The union leader also claimed city officials “do not believe that schools spread COVID” and blamed federal and state officials for not allowing teachers to receive the vaccine as early as possible.

“The reason that they’re not willing to allow teachers to be fully vaccinated before returning is because that would force them to delay reopening,” he said. “And that is something that they are clearly not willing to do.”

The union retweeted the following tweets:

The disarray in the Biden administration’s approach to school reopenings was on display last week as President Joe Biden’s new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “We can re-open schools safely, even if all of the teachers are not vaccinated.”

Walensky continued on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show:

There’s accumulating data that suggests that there is not a lot of transmission that is happening in schools when the proper mitigation measures are taken, when there is masking, when there is distancing, de-densification of the classroom, ventilation, contact tracing, hand-washing, all of those things, when they’re done well, the data suggests, the science suggests that there is not a lot of transmission happening in schools, and in fact, the case rates in schools are generally lower than they are in the population surrounding it. So, that’s what the data and the science suggest. And that we definitely want to have the community rates of disease go down. We want to make sure that that is happening as well. But the data suggests that it’s safe to go back to school if you do all of those mitigation measures.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, however, responded to Walensky’s comments by stating the CDC director’s statement that there is no necessity for all teachers to be vaccinated prior to reopening schools is not “official guidance.”

“[S]he’s in Atlanta — that they have not released their official guidance yet from the CDC on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools,” Psaki said. “And so, we’d certainly defer to that, which we hope to see soon.”

However, Walensky repeated her comments during an interview following Psaki’s press briefing.

Last week, Lightfoot blamed former President Donald Trump for the standoff between the city and the union, whose members have defied orders to return to their classrooms and also threatened to strike.

“Look, this is a very difficult situation,” Lightfoot told CNN’s New Day Tuesday. “And we’re in it, still, because of the incompetence of the previous administration. So, I think it’s important for both sides to come to the table in good faith, recognize that we’re both trying to work through a very challenging situation, but we must get a deal done.”

However, the city, under Lightfoot’s administration, appears to continue to suffer as at least 23 people were shot, with three fatalities, over this past weekend alone in Chicago. Additionally, 243 people were shot in the city between January 1 – February 2, 2021, observed the Chicago Tribune.

In late December, education media publication Chalkbeat, in collaboration with the Associated Press (AP), reported that, during the coronavirus pandemic, public school K-12 enrollment in 33 states has dropped by more than 500,000 students, or two percent, since the previous year.

According to the report:

That is a significant shift considering that enrollment overall in those states has typically gone up by around half a percent in recent years. And the decline is only likely to become more pronounced, as several large states have yet to release information. Chalkbeat and AP surveyed all 50 states, but 17 have not released comparable enrollment numbers yet.

The data, which in many states is preliminary, offers the clearest picture yet of the pandemic’s devastating toll on public school enrollment — a decline that could eventually have dire consequences for school budgets that are based on headcounts. But even more alarming, educators say, is that some of the students who left may not be in school at all.

At the time of publication, the Chalkbeat/AP survey showed data from Illinois on enrollment declines was unavailable.

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