Chicago Public Schools students will be greeted with some changes as they return to classrooms on Wednesday following a days-long battle between the city and teachers union over COVID safety protocols.
A tentative agreement between the two sides will bring expanded COVID-19 testing, added mask supplies, guidelines for when a school may switch to remote learning and more as schools resume in-person learning.
Classes were canceled for five days in the last week during a standoff between city officials and the Chicago Teachers Union, which peaked when teachers voted to return to remote-learning due to concerns about increasing coronavirus cases.
The district, which flatly rejected online class and said it was disastrous for students, responded by locking teachers out of online platforms, docking their pay and canceling classes in the roughly 350,000-student district.
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Ultimately, the two sides agreed to a deal on Monday, with teachers returning to classrooms Tuesday to prepare for the return of students.
Under provisions of the agreement, the district will expand COVID-19 testing and have standards to switch schools to remote learning under a hard-fought tentative deal approved by teachers' union leaders.
The talks also resulted in the district buying KN95 masks for students and teachers, boosting incentives to attract substitute teachers and allowing teachers unpaid leave related to the pandemic.
Both sides agreed that if 30% of teachers are absent for two days in a row or if 40% of students are in quarantine at a particular school, those buildings will close for at least five days.
The tentative deal didn't include two key provisions the union wanted: Metrics to prompt district-wide remote learning and assurances that union members wouldn’t be punished for failing to report to schools.
The union’s house of delegates approved the deal by 63%, lower than the 80% who voted a week earlier to teach remotely.
Union President Jesse Sharkey acknowledged it “wasn’t a home run,” a day before some 25,000 rank-and-file members were due to start voting on the deal. Voting was to end Wednesday.