Chicago schools closed; Mayor, CPS CEO reject latest CTU proposal 'we will not relent'

Abbott Laboratories sending 350K COVID tests to CPS
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The state of Illinois and Abbott Laboratories are teaming up to help Chicago Public Schools students get back into their classrooms,

The Abbott Park-based company is sending 350,000 rapid tests to the school district.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted to Governor J.B. Pritzker, thanking the state for the tests.

This comes as negotiations continue this weekend between CPS and The Chicago Teachers Union, leaving parents in limbo regarding whether classes will be held on Monday.

School has been out since Wednesday and there's still no deal over COVID-19 safety. There's still no clear decision about classes resuming Monday.

"This is a solution to what we are experiencing in this moment," said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

Teachers said they want to be in school but believe CPS schools needs to ramp up testing like local private schools have. The Chicago Teachers Union held a press conference Saturday afternoon to discuss their latest proposal to the mayor's CPS team.

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The Chicago Teachers Union presented its latest return-to-learning proposal to CPS team on Saturday.

The proposal requests that students begin remote learning on Jan. 12 before returning to in-person learning on Jan. 18, unless state or city health departments determine that conditions are not safe for in-person school at that time.

CTU's proposal also requests that CPS randomly test at least 10% of the student and staff population every week at every school. That program would allow students to opt-out. The proposal would also require CPS to pause in-person learning for 14 days and transition fully to remote instruction citywide if the COVID-19 test positivity rate in Chicago increases for seven consecutive days, remains at 15% higher than the rate from one week prior for each of those days and reaches 10% or greater on the seventh day.

CTU members also requested that any school with 25% or more of its staff out due to COVID-19 cases or exposures for two consecutive days will be transitioned to remote learning. For schools with 100 or more employees, a transition to remote learning will take place if those cases reach 20%.

They also introduced rules for remote learning if student exposures reach certain percentages. Elementary schools would transition to remote learning if more than 30% of students are instructed to quarantine or isolate. High schools and departmentalized middle school programs would go remote if more than 25% of the total student population had received such instruction.

"We've heard all year that contact tracing efforts have been inadequate, that we are not catching cases quickly now, we are not notifying families quickly enough," said Jennifer Johnson, Chicago Teachers Union chief of staff.

However, the latest proposal was rejected Saturday, in part by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez.

Following the news conference, Lightfoot and Martinez released the following statement:

"CTU leadership, you're not listening. The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. That's what parents want. That's what the science supports. We will not relent."

"Do you know the way teachers see that? We see that as bullying," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. "We see this as an attempt to dictate all the terms and not listen to the people who are actually in there trying to make schools and make education work."

This means back to the drawing board for CTU and CPS as Monday looms.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared on CNN Thursday night with optimism about the negotiations.

"There's no reason why we can't get a deal done this weekend and get our kids back in school, but there's got to be goodwill on both sides," Lightfoot said. "Everybody is talking about what's best for them, but nobody is bothering to ask necessarily the parents or the kids. We want them in school."

The mayor has ruled out a return to remote learning, despite some schools handing out Chromebooks this past week. She said in-person learning is still safe.

Still, for the third day in a row, CPS students were not in class Friday as Lightfoot expressed optimism that a deal can be worked out with the Chicago Teachers Union to reopen schools.

Both sides said they're committed to being at the bargaining table all weekend. CPS said it will have more to say about the status of Monday's classes, but already many principals are telling students not to show up on Monday.

In a joint statement Friday evening, Lightfoot and Martinez said: "Bargaining sessions continued today and went into the evening. The sessions remain productive but must be concluded this weekend."

A spokesperson for CPS then released a statement that said: "CPS is committed to working toward an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union throughout the weekend, and we are dedicated to working day and night so we can get our students back to school next week, hopefully on Monday. We know families need to plan ahead and we will be sending additional communication over the weekend with a status update regarding classes on Monday."

Teachers have been 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 CTU has accused Mayor Lightfoot of refusing the state's help with saliva testing.

IDPH said it made the offer over the summer, but CPS says it instead awarded a testing contract to a private vendor.

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.

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Lightfoot sounded optimistic again earlier Friday while speaking on MSNBC.

"Well, my hope is that we're going to get a deal struck here in the next day or so," Lightfoot said. "It gets our kids back in school in person learning in a deal that covers the duration of the school year and we don't have any additional disruptions."

Parents file lawsuit against CTU

Also on Friday, seven CPS families with students at 10 schools filed a lawsuit against CTU accusing them of an illegal work stoppage. Some of those parents are unable to work from home, and some have children with special needs. Their attorney is seeking an injunction to force the teachers back into the schools, calling their job action illegal.

"CTU can't unilaterally act when it comes to what they think is safe and not safe for our children for their well-being," said Jeffrey Schwab, plaintiffs' attorney. "That's a decision that does include their input, but it also includes the input of parents and other staff and principals."

One of those parents, Laurel Golden of Jefferson Park, has three sons in three CPS schools that are now making three different decisions about being open or closed.

"Extreme frustration," he said. "I mean, this is something they should have been figuring out a month ago already. Everybody is talking about what's best for them, but nobody is bothering to ask necessarily the parents or the kids. We want them in school."

WATCH | CPS parents file lawsuit against teachers union
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Seven CPS families with students at 10 schools filed a lawsuit Friday against CTU accusing them of an illegal work stoppage.

Teachers also said they want to be in school. The union denied that anyone has stopped working and characterized this as a lockout.

"We are just simply asking do what suburban schools, do what Catholic schools, do what private schools have done," CPS teacher Falin Johnson said. "They have tested. Charter schools. They have tested those babies."

"Our teachers, our parents, our students, we all want to be safe in school," CTU organizer Linda Perales said. "The mayor can make that happen by stepping up and meeting out demands and ensuring safety."

Meanwhile, parents and students have been hoping that the negotiators reach a deal soon to get kids safely back in school.

At Morgan Park High School, students were coming in, not for classes, but instead to pick up care packages with essentials, including Chromebooks in case students can't return to schools and have to resume e-learning.

"My hope is that we actually go back to school, so they're just giving us this little care package, just to say that they actually care about our health and that they care about our safety, too," Morgan Park student Markel Chaplain said.

When asked if she had any confidence kids would be back in school on Monday, Morgan Park parent Dee Stallion said, "I doubt it. If they're giving us a Chromebook it's no school on Monday. It's school at home."
While most schools remained closed, at Mt. Greenwood Elementary, the principal opened the school for parents who needed a safe haven for their children due to work or other schedule conflicts.

Katie Rondeau stopped by to get material for her second grader and was grateful she and her husband work opposite shifts and can manage the situation.

"I wish they would have figured this out before the kids went back to school," Rondeau said. "They had two weeks of a break to figure this out and they waited till we were back in school for two days and then waited until midnight so that parents didn't know what the deal was."

WATCH | Some CPS schools open despite standoff with teachers union
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Chicago Public Schools were closed Friday as negotiations continue with Chicago Teachers Union over COVID protocols.

And she's not alone. An online petition with more than 3,000 signatures is pushing for CPS to return to in-person learning and not go remote.

A group of 25 state lawmakers also entered the fray, signing a letter calling for more robust testing and high-quality masks for a safe return to in-person learning and calling for a pause to remote learning until that can happen.

"We continue to advocate and press upon Chicago Public Schools to work with us as we are trying to figure out the differentiated approach to how we address this," said State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago.

Lane Tech allowed students to come to the building Friday for a short time for activities.
The principal sent out a note to families preparing them for next week too, saying the high school will be open for in-person activities Monday, Wednesday and Friday for tutoring, gym opportunities and even board games.

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CTU argues with COVID cases on the rise, keeping kids and staff inside school buildings is not safe.

"When we came to school this Monday, I saw five times the number of students in quarantine," said CPS teacher Jackson Potter. "We saw staff members getting ill, we saw lower attendance. This wave was already making a large impact, and we weren't ready for it."

As for parents, some said they understand the frustration felt by teachers, but they just want their kids back in class.

"It stinks to be at home," said CPS parent Doug Davis. "It stinks to be remote. I don't really want them to be remote, my son went thru that last year as a freshman. It was a hard experience. Luckily he had sports but I think for a lot of kids, it's really, really, tough and just going into school is great but I want them to really be learning things."

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