CPS, CTU still without deal; in-person learning pushed back to Tuesday

'We should get a deal done...Teachers, we need you to come back'

Michelle Gallardo Image
Monday, February 1, 2021
CPS remains in limbo as school reopening negotiations continue with CTU
Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union are still without a deal as of Sunday evening, forcing the district to delay in-person learning to Tuesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There is still no deal between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union as of Sunday evening as the district instructs all students to continue remote learning for Monday.

Both sides claimed they were waiting on the other to start negotiations Sunday but did agree on their willingness to continue talks throughout the night.

"We've been waiting all day [Sunday] for in-person negotiations to begin. We've been waiting on the CTU," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

"We're waiting for them to come back right now, she said that we could do this on all night long," said Stacy Davis Gates, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union.

CTU gives update on bargaining, next steps

CTU says they waited in bargaining for hours, as mayor demands "major concessions" on CDC health metric, testing, teaching remotely for educators with medically fragile family memb

Now, the tens of thousands of students who expected to go back to in-person learning Monday will have to wait as the two sides go back to the bargaining table.

"Tomorrow will be the fourth consecutive day where teachers have been directed to remain home. And that makes 15 days in the past year and a half, where CTU leadership has disrupted student learning," said CPS CEO Janice Jackson.

The district pushed to reopen in-person learning for some kindergarten through eighth-grade students Monday but has now delayed returning until Tuesday, according to a letter sent out to parents Sunday.

Mayor Lightfoot to discuss latest developments between CPS, CTU negotiations

There is still no deal between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union as of Sunday evening.

"Due to our concern that CTU leadership will continue to direct teachers to remain home, we cannot ensure adequate staffing tomorrow and all students will receive remote instruction. It is now our goal to welcome students in pre-k through 8th grade and cluster classrooms back to school on Tuesday, Feb 2," the letter stated.

Lightfoot said that while the district and union leadership agree on some items of contention in principle, union leadership has refused to put those agreements in writing and instead has added more items to the negotiating table that are not related to the public safety issues related to reopening some classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just minutes before Lightfoot was expected to appear in a press update Sunday, CTU had a series of tweets that hinted towards there not being a deal just yet.

"I know we can get a deal done. I still think we can get a deal done today," Lightfoot said Sunday evening. "If it takes us staying up all night, lets get it done. But we need CTU to come back to the table."

However, CTU said they waited in bargaining for hours, as Lightfoot demanded "major concessions" on CDC health metric, testing, teaching remotely for educators with medically fragile family members.

While the return to in-person learning has been pushed back, yet again, the mayor said she still expects CPS teachers to show up to their classrooms despite the dispute.

"We should get a deal done," the mayor said. "Teachers, we need you to come back."

The CPS district and CTU made progress in negotiations but important issues need to be addressed, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Last week she said that if they do not, she said she would be forced to take further action, but did not specify what that action would be. She pointed to the tens of millions of dollars CPS said it's spent on safety measures, highlighting air filter systems, and argued CPS' plan is working with some students already returning to the classroom earlier this month without major issues.

"These are the same rigorous public health standards we have applied in every aspect of our city's response during this terrible pandemic. And we have moved mountains to make that happen in classrooms," Lightfoot said.

District officials said teachers in pre-k through 8 and cluster classroom who do not report to work in-person Monday, an don't have a valid reason for their absence, will be considered absent without leave. This comes following a threat from CPS Tuesday that states teachers who are absent without leave will not be authorized to support remote learning until they report in person as required.

"If teachers and staff ever failed to report to school tomorrow will have their access to Google suites cut off at the end of the business day.," Jackson said.

They added that while they know this could disrupt remote learning for many CPS students, they have been "working night-and-day to avoid" such action.

The union hopes continued negotiations can prevent that threat from becoming reality and that talks of compromise will come before strike.

"The only "s word" you hear a saying here tonight is safety, make that clear we want safety," Gates said.

CPS said Learning Hubs will remain open to support the hundreds of students they have been safely serving since the summer. A limited number of additional learning hub spaces are currently available. Families who are interested in signing up for a learning hub can submit an application form.

The district also said they ensure that families are able to continue picking up free grab-and-go meals.

As negotiations between CTU and CPS continue, all some frustrated CPS parents can do is wait while the two sides bicker over safety issues related to reopening some classrooms during the pandemic.

"It's their responsibility as leaders of this city to provide this service. Get it done! Compromise," said Ryan Griffin with the Chicago Parent Collective. "To be fighting over issues that may not be solvable today but we can make progress on, that's what we are looking for as parents."

While most parents chose to keep their children at school, other parents hoped they could send their children back to school Monday.

"We just want the option of two days. All this advocacy just to have two days within the classroom, said Sarah Sachen, CPS parent.

An estimated 71,000 students are expected to return to class.

There is still no deal between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union as of early Saturday as the district tries to reopen in-person learning for some students on Monday.

Mayor Lightfoot said her own daughter is among those already back in the classroom, as she tries to stress that she believes in-person learning is safe.

"Throughout the entire COVID-19 crisis, our singular priority has been ensuring the safe instruction at each of our kids, as well as the safety of our entire CPS community," the mayor said.

However, CTU officials have told their members to continue to teach remotely as they prepare for a possible lockout. Hundreds of CPS teachers and their supporters rallied in these car caravans throughout the city Saturday morning.

"They're trying to accomplish with force what they can't accomplish with persuasion, and of course, what we've told them, that's not going to work," said Jesse Sharkey, CTU president.

The CTU's comments came one day after Mayor Lightfoot accused the union of creating chaos and issued what appeared to be an ultimatum as CTU members voted to remain virtual for now.

"Those teachers need to be there to greet their students and teach them in person," Mayor Lightfoot said.

Along with 10,000 teachers, 65,000 kindergarten through eighth grade were set to return Monday, and while this return remains unclear currently, CPS said significant progress was made but important issues remain unresolved.

Lightfoot said she and the city remain at the negotiating table.

The CTU responded in a tweet, saying simply, "We don't need closing arguments. We need leadership."

They continued in another tweet, saying, "Nope, nope, nope. We were well on our way, working toward an agreement around all key components with the people who are actually at the bargaining table (much like what's happening the other cities). In the last hour, the mayor has wrecked it all. Those are the facts."

In a statement they added, "Unfortunately, rather than build on the progress that has been made between our Union and the Chicago Public Schools bargaining team, Mayor Lightfoot is disrupting every possible settlement, compromise our partnership. The educators in the room were close to reaching an agreement. The boss stepped in at the 11th hour and blew it to pieces. We will continue working toward an agreement, but we need real progress in critical areas....We have a willing partner in the CPS team. But CPS needs a willing boss."

"Our goal remains clear that we want to reach a deal, we want to reach a deal quickly, so that our parents and students have the certainty and stability that they need in order to know that they have options and that their kids will be educated appropriately," Jackson said.

Mayor Lightfoot and Jackson released a joint statement Saturday afternoon that said:

"For the first time since CPS and CTU began meeting in June, after over 70 meetings, we have reached tentative agreements on four of several outstanding issues, which is an important step toward reaching an overarching agreement that will ensure students are able to receive the high quality education they deserve. Those four key areas include: health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing, and health and safety committees. The commitments outlined in these four agreements align with the latest public health guidance, and we are encouraged by the progress that we have made. There is still significant work that needs to be done on the remaining several open issues. We must make additional, meaningful progress today and tomorrow as time is running out. Our teams remain at the bargaining table with the goal of reaching a sensible agreement that allows Chicago's students and teachers to safely return to the classroom, and we will keep families updated as the work continues through the weekend."

What's Holding Up A Deal?

CTU said while there has been some progress in talks, several issues are holding up an agreement.

Among them, the CTU wants accommodations for educators who personally care for those with underlying health conditions and vaccinations.

"Right now what they're telling us what they're telling the world is, they're not going to return back into buildings and agreement that we believe, protects our safety," Sharkey said.

RELATED: In-person learning during COVID pandemic is possible with the right precautions, CDC researchers say

"Will we have enough, social, emotional support in our school communities when the building's reopened? No, we will not in the middle of a pandemic," CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. "Will we have enough nurses in the buildings when our students return? No, not enough. Again, there's nothing magical about the facility; buildings do not provide equity, what provides equity is an allocation of resources that bring the things that our students need into the building."

CTU members picked up signs at their headquarters Friday, preparing for the possibility of being locked out as things remain unsettled.

The union said Sunday, if CPS does lock educators out their next step will be to call its house of delegates and then make a decision on what comes next, adding that they are taking this day by day.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady hosted a virtual meeting with doctors with connections to CPS on social media Friday. Everyone on the call was supportive of the plan to have in-person learning for kindergarten through eighth grade on Monday.

Health experts discussed the CPS return to in-person learning plan Friday.

Jackson pointed out that other schools have been able to restart in-person learning without so much back and forth, and said a resolution is needed.

Gates insisted the union is not looking to strike.

"We are not talking about a strike," she said. "Our members voted collectively for a remote work action. So, I want that to be clarified. No one, no one, our members they want to teach. It's not if we reopen, it's how we reopen."

WATCH: CPS CEO Janice Jackson gives update on negotiations

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson gave an update on negotiations Friday.

The CTU said progress is being made on cleaning protocols, masking and ventilation that could lead to a deal.

RELATED: CPS parents express frustration, concerns amid battle between CTU, district over students returning to classrooms during COVID

While some parents want their children to return to classrooms, others feel CPS is not prepared to handle COVID-19.

Both sides agree that a strike would be devastating.

WATCH: CTU Executive Board member Quentin Washington weighs in on CPS negotiations

CTU Executive Board member Quentin Washington weighed in on CPS negotiations Friday.

The roughly 355,000-student district, which turned to full-time online instruction last March because of the pandemic, has gradually welcomed students back. Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students resumed in-person learning earlier this month, and teachers who didn't return to their classrooms were punished.

CPS teachers were all eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, but they are not scheduled to begin getting it until February.