Chicago Public Schools has canceled Friday classes as an ongoing standoff with the teachers union spills into a third day of educational disruption.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez announced late Thursday that buildings will remain closed Friday, except for an unspecified small number of schools that will welcome students for activities but not classroom learning.
That came as CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union filed unfair labor charges against one another, with each side asking state officials to end the current dispute over in-person learning in their favor.
The latest escalation in the conflict over adequate COVID-19 safety measures in schools comes as CPS saw a new record number of coronavirus cases Tuesday — the last day of classes before the lack of agreement with the CTU again shut down schools districtwide.
While some CPS buildings — including Pulaski International School in Bucktown, Davis Dual Language Academy in Brighton Park and Oriole Park Elementary in Norwood Park — had already announced earlier Thursday that Friday classes were canceled, districts officials had said they believed some schools would have adequate staffing to conduct in-person learning. That apparently has turned out not to be the case.
Nearly 13% of the 21,600 CTU teachers and 15% of the 4,200 substitute teachers showed up for work Thursday, an increase from Wednesday’s staffing levels, according to district data.
CPS said in its statement that those who reported to buildings got paid, and the district encouraged CTU “to end this illegal work stoppage.”
“CPS staff who do not show up to work will not be paid until they honor their commitment to the District and our students and report for work in-person at our schools,” the statement read.
A later statement from CPS said its schools “are the best, safest place for students to be during this pandemic, and we are working tirelessly to get everyone back in class every day. We will continue working with CTU to resolve this situation and will provide you with ongoing updates as the week continues.”
As CPS and the union continued their fight Thursday, Illinois reported another record-shattering day for new COVID-19 infections, with 44,089 new confirmed and probable cases reported statewide, with a record 7,098 people hospitalized with the virus overnight Wednesday.
In the battle over reopening CPS, lawyers for CPS are asking the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to issue a cease-and-desire order against CTU and hear the case on an expedited basis.
“On Tuesday, January 4, 2022, the CTU illegally directed its members … not to report to work as directed but to work remotely instead from January 5 until the earlier of January 18 or when CPS meets certain health metrics,” CPS lawyers said in the filing.
CTU lawyers separately filed charges alleging CPS violated the law by not negotiating an agreement with CPS about school reopenings after the one they signed in February 2021 expired. They’re asking the state to to order CPS “to honor the statutory right of employees to refrain from working in dangerous conditions and to allow employees to work remotely.”
District officials had canceled Wednesday classes after the union endorsed the work action Tuesday to refuse to work in person and instead teach remotely during a city spike in infections.
The union, using the hashtag #LoriLockout, tweeted Wednesday that it’s been “inundated with calls and emails this morning from educators” who say they’ve been unable to log into their CPS accounts to teach remotely, as was the CTU’s stated intention.
CPS has not confirmed the lockouts but many teachers and other school employees have taken to social media to report they’ve been denied access to the CPS computer networks.
The CTU resolution, endorsed by 73% of voting members, seeks to have classes remain remote until Jan. 18 unless a safety agreement with CPS is reached or the omicron-fueled COVID-19 surge subsides. Lightfoot has denounced the union’s actions as an “unlawful, unilateral strike.” The union has countered that their actions don’t amount to a work stoppage because they are willing to teach remotely.
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CPS reported record new daily case numbers on Tuesday — 422 students and 274 adults. That was part of the first data to emerge from the two days of school that took place after the two-week winter break and before the cancellations.
Those figures are double the number of cases CPS was reporting when students and staff members started their holiday vacation last month. About 330,000 students are enrolled in CPS, the nation’s third-largest school district. CPS doesn’t report case numbers associated with its charter schools on its online COVID-19 tracker.
As of Wednesday evening, about 9,000 students and a record 2,300 staff members were in isolation because they tested positive for COVID-19 or quarantine because they had come in close contact with an infected person. With so many students and staff out because they have COVID-19 or are a close contact, absenteeism — more than the teachers union action — could be the main reason many classes aren’t meeting.
Some schools that individually announced the cancellation of Friday classes cited a lack of staffing.
“While we do have a limited number of teachers and staff who have been coming to work, at this time we do not meet the staffing threshold provided by CPS to safely offer in-person instruction or programming tomorrow, January 7,” the memo from Oriole Park School read. “… If the closure continues, and we do not have adequate staff to offer in-person programming on Monday, we will have packets of asynchronous activities available for pick up. There is no plan for remote instruction at this time in any CPS school.”
Pulaski Principal Diana Racasi wrote to parents Thursday that in lieu of in-person classes Friday, “digital resources will be shared on Pulaski’s webpage with multiple projects that students can work on at home independently or with family members or other adults. … Each project can be completed over multiple days, and the projects can be completed in any order. Please email admin if you would like copies to be made for pick up.”
Racasi also wrote: “I want to acknowledge the extremely challenging predicament we all are having to deal with on some level. I know this is difficult for everyone. This remains to be a deeply complicated issue with valid concerns on both sides.”
Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has repeatedly said schools are not dangerous settings for transmission and infection in kids rarely leads to hospitalization. She expressed hope Thursday that students will use the days off to get vaccinated if they have not done so already.
More than half of district students 12 to 17 years old and nearly 12% of students 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, according to the district. CPS says about 91% of its staff is fully vaccinated.
Across Illinois on Thursday, 44,089 new confirmed and probable cases were reported.
While the holidays likely resulted in some distortions in the recent daily counts, cases have exploded in the past two weeks. During the week ending Dec. 23, the state was averaging 12,573 new cases per day, compared with an average of 27,141 per day during the past week.
The number of people with COVID-19 in Illinois hospitals also continues to set records on a daily basis, pushing the average number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds per day to 6,419 over the past week, up from an average of 3,987 per day two weeks earlier.
Thanks in large part to vaccines, a smaller percentage of those who are getting infected are ending up in the hospital or dying compared with the fall 2020 surge, but deaths are on the rise.
Health officials on Thursday reported 104 coronavirus-related deaths, the most in a day in nearly a year. Over the past week, the state has averaged 63 deaths per day, up from 53 per day two weeks earlier.
The state has recorded 28,260 deaths since the pandemic began.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Chicago Tribune reporter Joe Mahr contributed to this report.
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