The Chicago Teachers Union said Chicago Public Schools' decision to lift its mask mandate for students and staff, switching to a mask-optional policy, is a "clear violation" of the union's agreement with the district and has promised legal action.
"Our union will immediately be filing an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against the district in response, and requesting that CPS bargain over this decision — a decision that impacts nearly 400,000 students, educators and school staffers in Chicago," the union said in a release Monday.
Starting next week, CPS said its mask mandate will be lifted for all students and staff, giving parents, students and employees a choice, though the district said it will continue to encourage their use.
“CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools, and we would not be moving to a mask- optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicated that it is safe for our school communities,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “We will support our staff and students as we enter this new phase in the pandemic and continue to move forward together.”
Citing vaccination rates and new CDC guidelines for the change, the district said more information will be released for parents before March 14.
“The adults in our school communities will set the tone during this transition,” Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova said in a statement. “I am confident that we will continue to support and respect one another through this next phase of the pandemic. Family and community situations may change and dictate if a student or staff member wears a mask and we all need to ensure that everyone feels welcome to continue the practice that makes them feel safest and most comfortable.”
CPS' mask mandate was part of an agreement reached between city officials and the Chicago Teachers Union earlier this year.
The union noted, however, that "students of color and their communities are particularly vulnerable as only 25 percent of all CPS schools have more than half of students fully vaccinated." It also pointed to children under the age of 5, who aren't yet eligible for vaccination and "are also particularly vulnerable."
"There are a lot of kids who are not eligible for the vaccine and even if they are eligible, they have low vax rates. So this is heartbreaking and disappointing, I fear for my kids' health," said CPS parent Miguel Bautista.
The union also wants CPS to offer virtual learning options and more accommodations for at-risk staff.
Illinois ended its requirement of face masks in schools last week, as announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker after the Illinois Supreme Court denied his appeal of a restraining order in a lawsuit challenging the mask mandate.
In a statement, Pritzker explained Illinois will move forward to remove its school mask mandate after the CDC updated guidance to recommend masks only in areas of high COVID-19 transmission.
In Chicago, indoor mask and vaccine mandates were also lifted last week.