CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Teachers Union officials said rank-and-file union members have voted in favor of a tentative agreement for teachers, students and staff to return to the classroom.
Mayor Lightfoot tweeted out that this plan, "guarantees the best possible health and safety protocols."
Even though the Chicago Teachers Union has ratified the deal, CTU president Jesse Sharkey slammed the plan, saying it should have been the starting point of negotiations, not the final deal.
Can schools safely reopen without teachers vaccinated for COVID-19?
Pre-K and cluster students will return on Thursday. Kindergarten through 5th grade will return on March 1 and 6th grade through 8th grade returns March 8. So far, no date has been set for high school students to return.
The deal includes a testing plan and CPS employee vaccination requirements. But according to CTU, only about 54 percent of union members voted in favor of the deal.
In a statement overnight, CTU president Jesse Sharkey minced no words, slamming both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership, saying, "Let me be clear. This plan is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families. The fact that CPS could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparations in schools is a disgrace..."Yet the mayor and CPS leadership were willing to do even further harm to our school district to maintain that posture. That's how much they care about real safety for students, their families and the educators and school staff who support them."
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson issued a statement saying, "The vast majority of CPS families have been separated from their schools for nearly a year, and the ratification of our agreement ensures families have options to choose in-person learning and make a plan that is best for them. We look forward to welcoming students as they return to their classrooms in the days ahead. This vote reaffirms the strength and fairness of our plan, which provides families and employees certainty about returning to schools and guarantees the best possible health and safety protocols. Our schools are fully prepared to safely welcome back students beginning tomorrow, and we are eager to provide additional support for the families who need more than remote learning can provide."
CPS parent Willie Preston said his 4-year-old daughter did a "happy dance" when the Pre-K student found out she was going back to school.
"This is the start of Chicago coming back from COVID, and I'm really, really excited about that," he said.
Ebonie Davis and Tequila Singleton have children in CPS cluster programs They say in-person learning is crucial to their kids' development.
"She has goals and benchmarks that she needs to attain," Davis said.
"He would have more of a hands-on type of learning environment," Singleton said.
For Singleton, going back to school means a huge help for her family. For weeks, the essential worker relied on Marillac St. Vincent to care and educate her son just so she could support her family.
"When they didn't have in-person schools, they had staff there to accommodate him to get on his e-learning while I had to work," she explained.
Mayor Lightfoot, CPS CEO Janice Jackson and the city's top doctor hosted an online forum Wednesday night to reassure parents the long-awaited return would be a safe one.
"We want to make sure that every student has the opportunity to learn and thrive and grow," Lightfoot said.
For families that didn't opt in for in-person learning, there will be another opportunity to opt in before the fourth quarter starts in April.