CPS school canceled for 3rd day amid impasse over Chicago Teachers Union vote for remote learning

CTU vote follows COVID surge; district says only Illinois Board of Education can make remote learning decision
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools classes will be canceled again Friday for the third day in a row after a Chicago Teachers Union vote earlier this week to switch to remote learning because of a surge in COVID cases prompted a district-union stalemate.

CPS made the announcement Thursday evening, and noted that "a small number of schools may be able to offer in-person activities for students." The district cautioned parents not to send their child to school unless they hear otherwise directly from their principal.

Officials had hoped to hold some in-person instruction in defiance of the union at CPS schools starting Friday.

"So, the goal is, for schools that have the staff, is we would like to have academic activities on Friday," Martinez said. "That is the goal."

Negotiations between CPS and the CTU continued Thursday, and in a brief statement Martinez and Lightfoot said the sessions began at noon, went into the evening and "were productive from our perspective."

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Rev. Jesse Jackson met with the mayor at City Hall Thursday night to urge her to end the impasse that has left parents and students in limbo.

"I just don't like the fact it's like politics at its best being played with our kids," said Claiborne Wade, CPS parent.

Wade said he was notified by his children's principal that their West Side schools will be closed Friday. He said his children should at least have remote learning.

"You know, it's just unfortunate that we have some schools that are open and some that are not," he said, referring to a small number of CPS schools with higher rates of staffing that are planning to open Friday. "It's our kids who are being affected by it, and parents need to be at the table as well."

"It just sends a message that everything is in total chaos, and the system doesn't have a plan, doesn't have a strategy," said ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington.

Governor JB Pritzker also entered the fray Thursday night, appealing to the Biden administration for more tests that could allow for the expanded screening the teachers' union is seeking.

"We always have to take action to keep our communities, our students, and our parents safe because the mayor doesn't take action," said CPS teacher Linda Perales.

Lightfoot, appearing on WTTW Thursday night, said she's working to find common ground but it's difficult.

"But when they go to the nuclear option and go and an illegal strike, that makes working together so much more challenging," the mayor said.

At Auburn Gresham's ARK of St. Sabina a small group of CPS boys, out of school for a second day, shot hoops. There was no schoolwork assigned today, nor is there any word from the district on when they might receive some kind of academic instruction.

The ARK is one of 25 Safe Haven sites around the city providing a safe space for students, free of charge, while their parents are at work.

"Yesterday we had a tailored conversation, a group discussion just to see how the kids felt," said Courtney Holman, executive director. "The younger kids are the ones that have favorite teachers, right? They don't understand what's going on. They just came off break and are looking to return to the classroom. All of them had issues with online learning. They talked about some difficulty with that."

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On the North Side, parents lucky enough to get a spot dropped their children off at Lakeview's Kid Create Student, where they were able to sign up for art classes.

"We all have to go to work, and I just think it's very disruptive for the children's learning, and I mostly just feel bad for them because I think it's not good for their mental health," said Ali Gordon, CPS parent.

"I think there's a failure of leadership on both sides. CPS, CTU, no one is acting like an adult here and we're left to pick up all the pieces," said Teddy Seidman, CPS parent.

Fellow CPS parent Seth Zimmerman also said he felt fortunate to have found the North Side location.

"We are lucky that we found this place. I can't imagine what a lot of these parents are going through, and we need to get them back in school," he said.

Many parents are running out of patience.

The city has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices, but the mayor said the city will consider other legal action if talks don't progress. CTU has also filed an unfair labor practices complaint against CPS.

CTU tweeted Tuesday night that 73% of its members voted in favor of the remote work only "job action," which they said will end when either the current COVID surge subsides or Lightfoot's team at CPS signs "an agreement establishing conditions for return that are voted on and approved by the CTU House of Delegates."

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Lightfoot said Thursday morning the district has spent $100 million on COVID mitigations, and schools are one of the safest places to be.

On MSNBC, she said, "I'm tired of the Groundhog Day appearance of everything that goes on with the Chicago Teachers Union leadership. We need partnership. We don't need conflict right now."

Meanwhile, CTU has remained mum as negotiations between both sides continue. Teachers are demanding all students and staff be tested as a condition to return to their buildings before the January 18 date agreed to in their vote earlier this week.

The union also wants KN95 masks, or those of similar quality, for all students and staff, as well as a return to last year's agreed upon thresholds for a move to remote learning, including a 10% or higher test positivity rate.

"What happens if we don't get an agreement? What happens is that the surge subsides. And when the surge subsides, hopefully quickly, we're all back in the classrooms doing in-person instruction," Sharkey said.

CTU added demands for increased staffing to alleviate a teacher shortage. Union leadership said even before the arrival of omicron, schools were understaffed.
"There is not an agreement without safety, and safety is also staffing," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. "You cannot have a building full of young people without proper supervision. We take zero pleasure in having to do a mass action like this to bring attention to the mitigations that are not in our school communities."

The mayor accused CTU of moving the goal posts, while also blasting a union proposal to require students to opt out of testing rather than opt in. The union said the opt-out practice is being used in other districts.

CPS had said it would cancel classes if the teachers voted to go remote, calling it an "illegal work stoppage" because what the CTU is seeking cannot be counted as an instructional day under state law.

CPS teachers can only work remotely if they are sanctioned by the Board of Education. Teachers not in school won't get paid.

Martinez said schools will remain open for administrators and staff, and students who show up will not be turned away.

"We will still continue to provide essential services, and we will have a plan in place whether it's for nutrition; we still have COVID testing that's scheduled in the schools," he said.
Dr. Arwady and Martinez said every CPS school has COVID testing in place and they are working to expand capacity.

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