Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools officials said Friday that the district has responded to the Chicago Teachers Union with its "last, best, and final offer" amid negotiations over a return to in-person learning.
“Yesterday afternoon, we received a counter proposal from CTU leadership and responded with our last, best, and final offer," Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said in a joint statement. "We expect a response from CTU leadership today. We will be making further statements later today about school on Monday."
Late Thursday evening, CTU said in a statement that the district "continues to reject using CDC health metrics, refuses to allow educators with medically vulnerable household members to continue to teach remotely, as two-thirds of families have chosen, and refuses to make improvements in remote learning, despite months of pleas from parents, students and educators."
The ongoing negotiations have been contentious, with Lightfoot saying earlier Thursday that discussions had moved "backward" as she blasted the union in a news conference, while the union claimed in a letter to parents that the mayor and district "mocked" them for raising needs of families "beyond the classroom."
"Despite a series of productive exchanges between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union leadership on Monday and Tuesday that should absolutely have led to a comprehensive agreement yesterday, we are deeply disappointed to announce that we still have not reached a deal," Lightfoot said, adding, "Yesterday there were a series of steps backward."
CTU circulated an open letter to parents earlier on Thursday, saying the battle was about safety and that the mayor and district "have unilaterally tried to impose a plan to return educators and students to in-person learning without involving our members, principals, students or parents."
The union said that it was only after teachers voted last month to take collective action that CPS "showed some urgency."
"We cannot return to in-person instruction until we have made more progress with the district on CDC-based health metrics, allowing educators with medically vulnerable family members to continue to teach remotely, and addressing real equity needs for the vast majority of our students," the union said.
CPS announced late Wednesday that students would continue with remote learning on Thursday, with no agreement reached with the CTU. Friday was a previously scheduled non-attendance day, giving the two sides a few more days to negotiate.
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 last weekend that the district would be prepared to "take action" if teachers did not report to classrooms, saying that teachers who did not return would be considered "absent without leave" and not authorized to conduct remote learning.
The district reversed course on that decision Monday, saying that as negotiations continue, teachers would not be locked out of their virtual classrooms.
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.