Chicago Public Schools teachers return to classrooms as CTU calls for more COVID protections

CPS students head back to school next week
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools teachers returned to the classroom Monday to prepare for the coming school year as their union calls for more COVID protections.

Students will join teachers back in classrooms next week.

In a morning news conference, Chicago Teachers Union members said it's still not safe to go back to the classroom with students and staff as the delta variant continues to spread.

"We're excited to be returning to our schools," said Erica Johnson, teacher at Fulton Middle School. "At the same time, we've landed only about 25% of the safety agreement we had in place last spring when we reopened, including keeping our critically important safety committees. But we have a long way to go."

"What we are I'm proposing, asking, demanding are the same mitigations that have been there already," CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. "We did not experience widespread outbreaks last winter and spring."

Some CTU members said with the variant affecting so many young children that cannot be vaccinated yet, bringing everyone back inside buildings creates an unsafe working and learning environment.

"We had a commitment that if transmission got to dangerous levels, the schools would be put on pause," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. "The state mandate allows that to happen, but we have no commitment on the part of the mayor."

The CTU is calling on the mayor to create what they consider a safe and stable plan for schoolchildren and in-person learning.

"I need CPS to tell me the protocol and their plans they have in place for students who get exposed to COVID-19 or the delta variant," said CPS parent and teacher Kimberly Walls-Kirk. "For students who get sick, what will my child do in her class has to quarantine? What will her learning look like? As a mother, I am concerned that CPS at the moment does not have a plan to improve remote instruction in cases where the entire class needs to quarantine."

Pressure is also coming from nearly 50 aldermen and state politicians, who sent a letter to the mayor and CPS pushing for safety measures, including a 14-day quarantine period of remote learning if there is a confirmed case in a classroom. The mayor said negotiations continue.

"There's no dispute, everyone agrees that we're going to open up next week on Monday, August 30th, five days a week in person. There's no dispute that teachers and other staff of CPS will be vaccinated as a requirement starting on October 15," Lightfoot said.
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