Chicago Public Schools

CPS Pre-K and Cluster Students to Return Tuesday as Dispute With CTU Continues

Pre-K and cluster teachers and staff are expected to return Monday, with students joining them Tuesday, according to the school district

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Chicago Public Schools on Friday released a detailed plan for the return to in-person instruction, which calls for students in pre-K and cluster programs to be back in classrooms beginning Tuesday even as the in-person learning debate with the Chicago Teachers Union continues.

Under the phased reopening, pre-K and cluster teachers and staff will return to school buildings Monday, with students joining them the following day.

On Friday morning, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city and CPS presented the union with their "last, best and final offer."

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the offer in question "cannot stand" and is a "threat" to cut students off from schooling.

Sharkey said the offer from CPS would pause in-person learning if there are COVID-19 outbreaks in 50% of buildings at the same time, which he said amounts to more than 200 schools. He also noted that the proposal "denies remote work accommodations to 75 percent of educators with household members at high-risk for COVID-19" and "will not make any improvement in remote learning, despite four out of five students remaining remote."

While agreements have been reached on a number of issues, according to the school district, the following remain outstanding: vaccinations, accommodations for staff with vulnerable household members, metrics regarding pausing in-person learning and a phased reopening.

Under the phased reopening proposal announced by CPS Friday, kindergarten through fifth grade teachers and staff will come back to school buildings on Tuesday, Feb. 16, with their students returning Monday, Feb 22.

Sixth through eight grade teachers and staff will return to classrooms on Monday, Feb. 22, with their students joining them on March 1.

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.

Additionally, the district said Friday that pre-K and cluster teachers and staff who don't have an accommodation will be required to report to classrooms Monday. Those who don't will be deemed absent without leave and locked out of CPS systems by the close of business.

The ongoing negotiations have often been contentious, with Lightfoot saying 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."

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.

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