CHICAGO (WLS) -- For the first time in a week, Chicago Public Schools students are back in class Wednesday, after a tentative deal was reached Monday night between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union regarding COVID safety.
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Shortly after 5:30 p.m., CTU said its members had approved the agreement 55% to 45%. All that was needed was a simple majority, but the vote still had a relatively narrow margin, which was smaller than the 63% approval of the union's House of Delegates vote to end the remote work action.
The deal requires a move to remote learning if 30% of teachers are absent for two days due to COVID-19, and the use of substitute teachers can't get that absence rate under 25%. The deal also mandates in person learning stop when 40% of the school's students are quarantined.
Many members are clearly dissatisfied with the deal. CTU was able to get CPS to agree to metrics that would trigger remote learning for individual schools, but the union did not get a district-wide metric for remote learning. The school district also rejected the union's proposal for an opt-out testing program for students which would have greatly expanded testing, though CPS has committed to a robust testing program and more PPE.
Emima Kisija, a seventh-grader at Swift Elementary, was excited to be back.
"When you're home, it feels kind of lonely honestly. You're isolated from your peers and stuff, and now that we're back, we get to reunite with our classmates and our friends and stuff," she said.
But some parents are not happy with the decision.
"The pandemic, the viruses, it's just not safe," CPS parent Suzana Kisija said. "Like even though the kids are back to school, for me, in my opinion, for my children, it's not safe."
And others are torn.
"I think it's a hard day all around," CPS parent Jamin Clutcher said. "I think the teachers were right in bringing up a lot of serious concerns."
Mara Tierney is an essential worker with mixed emotions about sending her children back.
"I kind of need them to be in school. It's hard to do the home-schooling; we did that all last year, but at the same time I don't necessarily feel it's a health risk I wanna take," she said. "But I don't know what my other options are."
Claiborne Wade, whose children attend a CPS school on the West Side, said his local school council told him one of his child's elementary schools had nearly half the students out because they either tested positive or need to quarantine, and other child's school had to go remote for similar reasons.
"Not surprised at all because the cases are rising, and our parents are being transparent," he said. "We're back, and let's continue to stay safe, and let's continue to educate our kids because they are our future."
Safety concerns kept some parents from sending their kids back to school today, and has others considering leaving the CPS altogether.
Angela Martin moved her children to the private K through 12 Bennett Day School in the city's River West neighborhood. The school's founder said following this latest CPS distraction, the school has seen an influx of interest.
"It's certainly up versus prior years," said Cameron Smith, founder and CEO of Bennett Day School. "With over 300 students, applications are usually in the hundred and then it's above that, certainly, versus prior years."
"Parents are going to be wondering when the next battle is going to ensue. This has been a longtime pattern," ABC7 political analyst Laura Washington said. "What you're going to see is many more parents start to look at alternatives. They're going to start to move out of the system. That's already been happening. I think it's going to happen even more. Parents just don't feel they can rely on CPS any longer."
"You know, I'm still struck by the tone deafness of our administration," CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. "Our mayor is not a partner."
Bennett Day School offers assistance for its yearly tuition that starts at $20,000, and is open to helping parents make a change.
"I just think that people are disheartened with not being able to have their kids in school," said Kimberly Burks, Bennett Day School division director.
Daystar Academy in the South Loop has also seen more inquiries, and the Archdiocese of Chicago says there's increased interest in Catholic schools right now.
Governor JB Pritzker also weighed in, saying his office worked to find more tests to help end the CPS-CTU standoff, and efforts to increase testing capacity continue.
"The best place for kids right now is in the classroom. And I'm so pleased that hundreds of thousands of Chicago students are returning to school with their teachers. Health and safety must be our primary concerns for keeping schools from going remote," the governor said.