Chicago Public Schools officials on Friday announced a plan to vaccinate staff members in the next phase of the city's vaccination plan, as the district prepares to bring thousands of teachers and students back into classrooms.
Chicago is currently preparing to enter Phase 1B of its vaccination plan along with the rest of Illinois on Monday, opening up doses for frontline workers and those over the age of 65.
Phase 1B does include educators and those in school settings, though health officials have warned that the city has not been receiving as many doses of the vaccine from the federal government as they had initially anticipated, a trend playing out nationwide since shipments began arriving last month.
CPS expects to begin receiving vaccines in mid-February, the district said, and will begin to distribute doses to employees at that time through school-based sites. The district noted that staff who are eligible to get vaccinated in Phase 1B can set up their own appointments through their health care provider or pharmacy.
CPS also said it has launched partnerships with health care organizations to vaccinate approximately 1,500 staff members in health care roles, who have been eligible to receive the vaccine under the current Phase 1A, over the next two weeks.
The district noted that it has created a "prioritization system" for the order in which staff will be able to get vaccinated. That strategy was developed "based on the level of exposure to others and ability to reliably maintain mitigation measures, as well as the amount of time the specific role has been serving in-person during the closure," CPS said.
The district's prioritization system is broken into three groups, which are further divided into subgroups.
Group 1 is "high exposure" individuals "whose job responsibilities require them to work in close physical proximity with others" and cannot at times practice social distancing. That includes school-based nutrition and security staff, school leaders, care room attendants, clerks in the first subgroup, while bus aides, cluster program and pre-K teachers and paraprofessionals are in the second.
Group 2 is "medium exposure" individuals whose roles "may require regular interaction with other staff members and students." That includes facilities staff as well as elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals in the first subgroup, while high school teachers and paraprofessionals fall into the second subgroup.
The third group is "low exposure" staff who can perform their roles largely remotely, which would be central and network office staff, the district said.
Within each category, employees may move up in line if they are 65 or older or have a high-risk medical condition in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Vaccinating our frontline essential workers who continue to provide for our communities during this difficult time - including CPS educators and staff - has always been a key goal of our City's vaccination strategy," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "Not only will this vaccination plan bolster our safety initiatives as we welcome students and staff back into the classroom, but it will also put our city on the right track to reopening and returning to a sense of normalcy."
The announcement of the district's vaccination plan came days before kindergarten through eighth grade staff are scheduled to report to schools on Monday, in anticipation of their students returning to classrooms on Feb. 1, per CPS' plan.
A limited number of students in pre-K and special needs classes returned to the classroom in recent weeks as both the union and district remain embroiled in a debate over resuming in-person instruction.
No date has been set for high school students, who are expected to continue with remote learning under the district's reopening plan.
Earlier this week, the Chicago's Teachers Union's House of Delegates voted to authorize all union members to conduct remote work only beginning Jan. 25. CPS on Thursday said remaining out of schools would be a "decision to strike" that would be in violation of their collective bargaining agreement.
On Thursday, some teachers once again held remote learning sessions outside their school buildings in protest of CPS' decision to return to in-person learning. CTU also organized a news conference Thursday with medical expert and parents who support keeping students at home, citing health and safety concerns.
CTU said that more than 80% of the House of Delegates' 600-member committee passed the resolution - giving rank-and-file members of the union until Saturday evening to vote on the resolution.
If the resolution passes, it would authorize teachers to seek to exclusively work remotely beginning Monday. That action would require only a simple majority vote of the union’s membership, rather than the 75% that would be required for a full work stoppage, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The district said the vote would "cancel in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who asked to return — and the thousands of pre-K and cluster students who are already learning safely in classrooms."
"Our collective bargaining agreement includes a no-strike clause, and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has ruled a strike of this nature would be illegal," the district said in part. "The decision by the union to remain out of schools and deny families access to in-person school is a decision to strike."
An estimated 71,000 students are scheduled to return to classrooms on Feb. 1.