With no agreement in place between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, CPS officials said that if teachers do not return to schools on Monday, they will be considered “absent without leave” and will not be authorized to conduct remote learning until they report back to their classrooms.
The action could potentially set up a teachers’ strike in the coming days, and represents the latest salvo fired in the ongoing negotiations between the two sides.
“All teachers, pre-K through eight and cluster teachers must report,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news conference Sunday. “If you don’t have an approved accommodation, we expect to see you back in class. Those who do not report to work…we will have to take action. Let’s avoid that.”
Parents were told not to send their children to school on Monday for in-person learning. Under the original parameters of CPS’ return-to-class plan, students in K-8 were supposed to report to class for the first time on Feb. 1, but as negotiations continue that move has been put on hold.
Teachers were originally supposed to report to classrooms last week, but after the CTU voted last month to authorize remote learning until teachers are vaccinated, teachers were instructed to continue conducting remote learning instead. After a week of negotiations, the two sides still have not come to an agreement, setting the stage for a possible work stoppage.
At a virtual press conference late Sunday, CTU leadership said outstanding issues include a clear vaccination process and a health metric for teachers' coronavirus concerns.
"People's lives... depend on us reaching a maximum amount of safety in the middle of a pandemic," said Stacy Davis Gates, CTU's vice president.
Both sides pointed fingers in a series of social media posts earlier Sunday, with CTU officials saying that Lightfoot and CPS leadership told them “not to attend” negotiations unless rank-and-file members of the union were prepared to make “major concessions.”
In response, CPS said that their bargaining team was “told by CTU leadership that they were unavailable to meet until they could develop a response to our most recent offer.”
CTU responded to that assertion by criticizing Lightfoot for “referring to the ‘hyper-democratic’ nature of CTU” in a negative light, and that the union is looking to its rank-and-file members for leadership during the current impasse.
The news comes after both sides had reported progress in negotiations over the weekend. The two sides have been debating the safety of teachers and students returning to classrooms amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic for months, with issues surrounding vaccinations, metrics and safety procedures all on the negotiating table.
Lightfoot insists that the CPS plan to return to schools has been thoroughly vetted by medical experts, including Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, and that it has been borne out in charter and Archdiocese classrooms in the city since the fall, as well as in pre-K and cluster learning classrooms that returned last month.
Lightfoot appeared on "Morning Joe" Monday to make that claim and again turn blame on the union.
"We've invested over $100 million in ventilation, other safety protocols, making sure that we have masks, safety health screening, temperature checks, all the things that you would expect, that the CDC guidance has told us, that we know make sense to mitigate any issues in schools," she said.
"We've had three weeks of safely implementing our plan until the teachers union blew it up," Lightfoot continued. "We are doing everything that we can to address what the teachers are expressing to us, but we need them to meet us halfway. As you all know, you've got to take steps in each other's direction. There's got to be compromise."