A 48-hour "cooling off period" between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union ends Wednesday as negotiations continue over a return to in-person learning.
CPS called for the two-day "cooling off period" on Monday night, noting that the two sides had made progress in their discussions. CPS also reversed course on Monday, saying that as negotiations continue, teachers would not be locked out of their virtual classrooms like district officials had initially warned they would if they did not return to schools this week.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said in a joint statement Tuesday evening that the two sides conferred throughout the day on the issues that remain.
“As we work toward an agreement that provides families an option to safely return to the classroom, CPS and CTU conferred throughout the day on a small number of remaining issues. We expect discussions to continue into the evening, and we will provide updates as negotiations progress," their joint statement reads. "It is critical that we work through the remaining issues in a timely manner so that our families and staff can fully focus on the high quality education our students deserve.”
Lightfoot and Jackson said Monday night, in calling for the "cooling off period," that the district and the union had reached an agreement on one open issue and "made substantial progress on a framework" they hoped would address the remaining issues.
Students continued remote learning on Tuesday and Wednesday as a result of the ongoing negotiations.
Kindergarten through eighth grade students were initially scheduled to return to classrooms Monday, per the district's reopening plan, though that was put on hold after members of the teachers union voted to continue remote learning until educators had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
A limited number of students in pre-K and programs returned to classrooms last month in accordance with the district's plan, though those students were moved back to remote learning after the union's vote.
Thousands of elementary and middle school staff and teachers were expected to return to schools last week, with an estimated 71,000 students scheduled to join them on Monday - though both were postponed amid the standoff.
CPS previously said that a refusal to return to schools would constitute an "illegal strike" and Lightfoot warned over the weekend that the district would be prepared to "take action" if teachers did not report to classrooms.
“All teachers, pre-K through eight and cluster teachers must report,” 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.”
CPS officials said over the weekend that if teachers did not return to schools on Monday, they would be considered “absent without leave” and would not be authorized to conduct remote learning until they report back to their classrooms.
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.
Lightfoot has repeatedly insisted that the CPS plan 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.
The union has pushed back on those assertions, saying that there have been enough coronavirus cases reported in the district since pre-K and cluster students returned to classrooms that they are justified in seeking a return to remote learning until educators can be vaccinated against the virus.