Negotiators from Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union continued to meet Tuesday as talks over a return to classrooms for teachers and students continued.
According to NBC 5’s Mary Ann Ahern, progress is being made on plans for administering coronavirus vaccines to teachers, one of the main stumbling blocks remaining in the push to reopen schools in the city.
Those negotiations remain ongoing during a “cooling off” period announced by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Monday. That move allowed teachers to continue working remotely during talks, heading off a potential work stoppage that could have been triggered had CPS locked out teachers beginning Monday evening.
“It is critical that we work through the remaining issues in a timely manner so that our families and staff can fully focus on the high-quality education our students deserve,” Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said in a joint statement.
Originally, CPS wanted students in kindergarten through eighth grade to be back in classrooms to start the month of February. Instead, CTU members voted to revert to all remote-learning, even for cluster learning and pre-K students who had returned to classrooms in January.
That move sparked heated discussion between the two sides over the safety plans put forward by CPS, and could have potentially resulted in a lockout of teachers on Monday after Lightfoot said the district would “take action” if teachers didn’t report back to classrooms.
Now, CPS and CTU are making progress on a variety of issues in the reopening plan, including a potential phased-in reopening procedure that might be gaining traction, according to sources. Initially, all CPS students in kindergarten through eighth grade that had voted to come back for in-person learning were expected back in classrooms on Feb. 1, but now a more gradual rollout of in-person learning is possible.
Tentative agreements have been reached on several protocols, as well as on proper ventilation in classrooms, contact tracing and other safety concerns.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says that health officials are stepping up their allocation of COVID vaccines to teachers, potentially giving even more momentum to negotiators.
“We’ve worked really hard to assess the percentage of eligible Chicago residents,” she said. “We are definitely allocation, or even over-allocating, vaccine to (CTU members).”
Vaccines are just one of the issues remaining to be negotiated during the talks. Health metrics that will determine when schools close for quarantine are also being discussed, as are the number of COVID tests approved for teachers and various other accommodations for teachers with underlying health conditions.
Negotiations are expected to continue Tuesday evening, with the CTU’s House of Delegates set to have a regular meeting on Wednesday. Any deal would have to be approved by that body before being put up for a vote of the rank-and-file membership of the union.