Members of the Chicago Teachers Union on Monday urged Chicago Public Schools to extend remote learning, citing a recent ruling from an arbitrator who found CPS can't guarantee safety for employees forced to work in buildings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The arbitrator ruled that CPS violated a portion of the CPS/CTU contract by failing to provide safe working conditions—and that the poor condition of CPS facilities increases the risk of catching and transmitting COVID-19, according to a news release from the CTU.
"It raises the broader issue," Robert Bloch, an attorney who represents the CTU, said during a virtual press conference Monday. "If CPS can't make it safe for 1,000 employees, how will it ever be safe for 400,000 students and staff?"
The school district took issue with the arbitrator's ruling, saying it has worked closely with Chicago's Department of Public Health to keep everyone safe.
"The arbitrator’s deeply flawed ruling substitutes actual public health standards for her own judgement and doesn’t find any actual deficiencies in the district’s plan or a single building where conditions are unsafe," CPS said in a statement.
According to the CTU, the Illinois State Board of Education has said school districts should bargain over the terms of learning and working during the pandemic, and CPS has ignored the instruction for months.
NBC 5 talked to some CPS parents who believe the district is taking the proper precautions, while others aren't so sure about resuming in-person instruction just yet.
"We want all the buildings back open, but if science doesn't back up the safety of it, I don't have any problem keeping them home," said CPS parent Kelly Burns.
Evelyn Perez Horita, another CPS parent, said she doesn't think it is safe to return to the classroom yet, especially for children like her daughter Lia, who has an individualized educational program.
"They can argue on both sides, but we really need to understand the kids," she said.
Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said "we're not there yet" when it comes to resuming in-person learning at CPS schools, adding an announcement would be made "in the next few weeks."
As of Monday, an updated timeline hadn't been provided.
Lightfoot previously said the decision to start the school year remotely was "rooted in public health," but at the time said the district sought to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, which is set to start Nov. 9.
The full statement from CPS is below:
“Chicago Public Schools has developed a comprehensive health and safety plan aligned to the strongest available public health guidance to help ensure the safety of staff who have been reporting to school buildings to support students, staff and families. The arbitrator’s deeply flawed ruling substitutes actual public health standards for her own judgements and doesn’t find any actual deficiencies in the district’s plan or a single building where conditions are unsafe. We will be moving to have the ruling reconsidered based on local and national public health standards and a complete assessment of the district’s efforts to protect staff.”