CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools told parents of pre-K and cluster students to keep their kids at home Wednesday after the Chicago Teachers Union urged members to work remotely.
"Short of some late-breaking change," all CTU members will begin working remotely on Wednesday according to the Chicago Teachers Union.
If CPS retaliates against members for exercising their right to a safe workplace, "all CTU members will stop working on Thursday and set up picket lines at their schools," the CTU said.
CPS said in letter to families that with CTU instructing teachers to stay home, they "have no choice but to ask parents to keep your children home tomorrow."
In a Tuesday evening press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said no agreement between CPS and CTU has been reached yet over return to in person learning. She said the city and school district will remain at the bargaining table. She also said they have not changed their plans for in-person learning to resume for kindergarten through 8th grade students on Monday, Feb. 1.
At her Tuesday afternoon press conference Lightfoot confirmed no deal had yet been reached.
CTU said Tuesday it needs to have access to vaccines in order to return to in-person learning. Both sides agree a deal needs to be done, and that safety is a priority for all. And both sides said they believe a deal could be around the corner.
Kindergarten through 8th grade teachers were supposed to return to Chicago Public school buildings on Monday. When they actually go back into the classroom is dependent on the deal the CTU and CPS are negotiating right now.
"Education is absolutely the great equalizer, and we see the data: too many of our kids are falling woefully behind," Ligthfoot said.
The Chicago Teachers Union members voted Sunday to authorize all rank-and-file educators in Chicago Public Schools to conduct remote work only, and said a strike is an absolute last resort. Both sides agreed to mediation as of Tuesday night.
"We are encourage that she said that we're going to remain remote tomorrow, so we can get a deal done. That means something to us," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.
The union said there are still key points that needs to be addressed.
"Reopening is not the argument. The discussion, the debate is safety. That's it," Davis Gates said. "When we implement a safe agreement, phase in vaccine, a health metric, accommodations that meet the needs of medically vulnerable households. Those things are important."
CPS maintains it's gone above and beyond to address union needs. The district also said public health data and the city's top doctor support in-person learning.
"We believe that our latest proposal to the union can serve as a foundation to a deal," said Jackson. "Frankly, there is no good reason why we shouldn't have an agreement at this time right now."
Some teachers are also concerned about the prioritization of vaccination.
"Evanston and Skokie have already vaccinated their educators. The L.A. superintendent said the entire school staff must be vaccinated before returning to school," said CPS teacher Linda Perales. "Why can't CPS and Lori Lightfoot do the same? Their reopening plan should match their vaccination plan."
Reporters asking about the delay in plans to vaccinate teachers did acknowledge that districts in Skokie and Evanston are vastly smaller than the Chicago Public Schools district, which is the third largest district in the nation. Jackson said in the Tuesday evening press conference that when the district receives their vaccine doses from the federal government, it will prioritize teachers in schools located in areas with higher community spread.
CPS teachers are all eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, but they are not scheduled to begin getting it until February.
Dr. Anna Volerman, a CPS parent and a doctor, said she's concerned this back and forth has put students in the middle.
"We understand the potential exposures, we understand the effects of COVID, and at the same time we understand the effects of being at home and being at school for children and for teachers and for staff," she said.
Special Education classroom assistants (SECA), among the first to return to the classroom, also added their voice to the issue.
"We would like the opportunity to be vaccinated before returning to school," said SECA Anthony Gonzalez. "And children above the age of 16. 16 and above, they should be vaccinated before returning to school."
Fewer than 20% of CPS students have chosen to return to in-person learning so far. Tuesday, a group of CPS parents who are also healthcare workers released an op ed in support of a return to the classroom, stating it's not necessary to wait for vaccines to come.
"If school reopening is approached collaboratively, with all stakeholders--including parents--at the table, schools can be opened safely. As a city, we must prioritize our youth and invest in their future. During this challenging time, getting children back in the classroom is the number one way to show this commitment," the op-ed said in part.
CPS and the mayor said no matter what, the plan is for kindergarten thru 8th grade students to return Monday, Feb. 1.
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 resumed in-person learning earlier this month and teachers who didn't return to their classrooms were punished.