Following another day of protracted negotiations with Chicago education officials, the city’s teachers late Monday voted to end their work stoppage that began last week as they refused to give in-person instruction amid surging COVID-19 cases.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the results of the vote during a press conference, stating teachers will return to school on Tuesday with all students to follow on Wednesday.
“After being out of school four days in a row, I’m sure many students will be excited to get back into the classrooms with their teachers and peers and their parents and guardians can now breathe a much deserved sigh of relief,” she said.
In its own separate virtual press conference late Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union said its delegates voted 63-37 to suspend the work stoppage that began last week when the union staged a walk-out and called for virtual learning and better COVID-19-mitigating measures amid soaring infections.
Jesse Sharkey, president of the CTU, said that the process has been “personally exhausting” and that he’s glad it’s over.
“The CTU felt like we were asking for a set of reasonable things,” he said, stating the week of negotiations showed the city’s “callus disregard” for their safety and that of the students.
“I’m tired. I wish it hadn’t gone that way,” he said, adding that while the agreement doesn’t include all of their asks they can be proud of it.
“It’s not a perfect agreement but it’s something we can hold our heads up about, partly because it was so difficult to get. It does include some things that are going to safeguard ourselves and our schools,” he said.
Jen Johnson, CTU chief of staff, explained that the agreement does not include one of their demands, which was opt-out testing of students as Lightfoot would not budge on that and instead the agreement includes the ramping up to a rapid testing program to ensure at least 10% of students at every school are tested on a weekly basis.
“Testing will significantly increase in schools,” she said, adding that they will increase efforts to get the opt-out option.
She said they also secured the closure of schools and the resumption of remote learning when 40% of students are in either isolation or quarantine during high transmission as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During other times, schools will go online when 50% of students are practicing the COVID-19 mitigating measure.
A school community can also flip to remote learning if 30% of staff have tested positive and if the percentage of facility teachers absent hits 25% with substitutes, she said.
“These are not the exact metrics that we would want to hit, but it provides some safeguard going forward, particularly as we’re still seeing what happens in this current surge,” she said. “We believe that the metrics would have prevented some of the most dire situations, particularly in elementary schools, in under served communities, in Black neighborhoods where vaccinations still remain too low.”
CPS also committed to additional KN95 masks for both students and staff, though the union says they are skeptical of its ability to deliver them.
The agreement also states that every school will have a contact tracing team where members and staff will be paid to do contact-tracing work.
“We think it will dramatically increase the number of people participating in the process, but more importantly these individuals will be doing contact tracing for student cases in their own school community,” she said. “They know the staff, they know the students, they will have a much better time making connections, getting the information and sharing it appropriately while respecting students’ and familys’ confidentiality.”
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