After members of the Chicago Teachers Union approved a deal with Chicago Public Schools to return to in-person learning, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership said schools are "fully prepared to safely welcome back students."
""The vast majority of CPS families have been separated from their schools for nearly a year, and the ratification of our agreement ensures families have options to choose in-person learning and make a plan that is best for them," Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said in joint statement.
"We look forward to welcoming students as they return to their classrooms in the days ahead. This vote reaffirms the strength and fairness of our plan, which provides families and employees certainty about returning to schools and guarantees the best possible health and safety protocols," the statement continues.
"Our schools are fully prepared to safely welcome back students beginning tomorrow, and we are eager to provide additional support for the families who need more than remote learning can provide," Lightfoot and Jackson said.
The CTU said said 13,681 union members voted in favor of the deal, representing 67.5% of the ballots cast, with another 6,585 members voting against the agreement, which brings some teachers and students back to classrooms as early as Thursday.
The agreement was reached on Sunday after weeks of contentious negotiations.
CPS said the schedule for teachers and students to return is as follows:
|Group/Grade||Staff Start Date||Student Start Date|
|Pre-K & Students in intensive and moderate cluster classrooms||February 11||February 11|
|Kindergarten—Grade 5||February 22||March 1|
|Grade 6—Grade 8||March 1||March 8|
About 20% of students have opted for a return to in-person learning, CPS said, with 80% continuing with remote learning for the time being. The district said Sunday that families who chose to continue remote learning will have another opportunity to return to schools before the start of the fourth quarter that begins in April.
On vaccinations, CPS said 2,000 pre-k and cluster staff, as well as staff who have medically vulnerable members of their household but were not given an accommodation to continue teaching remotely, will be offered vaccinations beginning this week. The district said the staff who accepted the "expedited vaccination opportunity" must commit to returning to schools within two weeks of receiving their first doses.
The district said it also agreed to administer vaccinations to 1,500 employees per week out of the city's supply at CPS' vaccination sites that will open later this month, and noted that staff at the city's 15 communities most impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible to be vaccinated through the city's "Protect Chicago Plus" initiative.
All education workers in Illinois are eligible to be vaccinated in the state's current phase of vaccinations, Phase 1B which began last month.
The agreement between CTU and CPS also includes metrics to return to all remote learning if the pandemic worsens. The district will move to online learning for at least 14 calendar days if the city's rolling 7-day average test positivity rate: increases for seven consecutive days, is at least 15% higher each of those days than the rate one week prior and if the rate is 10% or higher on the 7th day.
Should that happen, CPS will resume in-person learning after 14 days or when the positivity rate no longer meets those three metrics, whichever happens later, the district said.
For individual pods, in-person learning will be paused when there has been one confirmed positive COVID-19 case and for individual schools, the district says it will implement a "school-wide operational pause when there are three or more confirmed positive cases in three or more different classrooms at a school within a 14-day period."
The district said it will continue to grant approval for remote work for employees at increased risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 or for those who serve as primary caregivers for family members at increased risk. CPS said that other accommodation requests will be granted "when operationally feasible and consistent with providing a high quality learning experience to in-person students" and that any union member who is not granted an accommodation and is not fully vaccinated can take unpaid leave with benefits during the third quarter.
The deal also includes agreements on health and safety protocols (like health screenings, access to personal protective equipment, cleaning protocols and more), a plan for enhanced ventilation in schools, as well as the creation of a contact tracing team plus districtwide and school-level health and safety committees to oversee implementation.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey slammed Lightfoot and the district in announcing that the deal had been ratified early Wednesday, saying the plan "is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families."
"The fact that CPS could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparations in schools is a disgrace," Sharkey wrote in an email to the union's rank-and-file members. "Yet the mayor and CPS leadership were willing to do even further harm to our school district to maintain that posture. That's how much they care about real safety for students, their families and the educators and school staff who support them."
"This agreement represents where we should have started months ago, not where this has landed," he continued, adding that the deal did put teachers in a "vastly better position" than they were in November.