Chicago Public Schools

CPS Says Status of Friday Classes Still Unclear, Guidance for Parents Expected

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Chicago Public Schools parents wondering whether or not they should send their students to classes Friday won't have an answer just yet, but should expect one by the end of the day Thursday, the district said.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, CPS said negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union are ongoing, but "if we are unable to resolve this issue with the CTU today... we will inform parents about the status of tomorrow’s classes by the end of the day."

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said Wednesday evening that some schools may have enough staff to open Friday for "academic services," but noted that parents should not send their kids unless they receive instructions from their school to do so.

"We ask that parents do not send children to school without instructions from their child’s school," the district said in a release. "Parents can expect to hear from their child’s principals today about what may or may not be offered at their children’s individual school(s)."

Thursday marked the second day of canceled classes for the district after the union voted to switch to remote learning without CPS' permission.

The district said "thousands of CPS staff" showed up at city schools Thursday, despite classes being canceled.

"These staff members will continue to be paid," the statement read. "CPS staff who do not show up to work will not be paid until they honor their commitment to the district and our students and report for work in-person at our schools."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced late Wednesday the city has filed an unfair labor practices complaint over the vote, saying that while the city would prefer to reach an agreement with teachers to get them back into classrooms, they are considering all options.

“We have taken some action in that direction,” she said. “We’d rather resolve this at the bargaining table. We are considering all of our options, and we’ll make a determination shortly as to what levers we’re going to pull, depending on whether or not we make significant progress at the bargaining table.”

The union says that members were locked out of email and other accounts Wednesday, and they were prevented from logging into online learning systems after Tuesday’s vote.

CPS officials have repeatedly said that they do not view a return to full remote learning as necessary, even with a surge in COVID cases caused by the omicron variant, and that they prefer a targeted approach to the strategy.

Pedro Martinez, the CEO of CPS, said that approximately 84% of teachers showed up to work on Monday for the resumption of classes after the winter break, but that only 10% of teachers showed up after the vote to switch to remote learning on Tuesday.

He said that while no official plan has yet been made for Friday, he said that some schools may resume in-person learning on that date depending on staffing.

“Some schools have enough staff reporting to work to return to in-person instruction as soon as Friday,” the CPS said in a letter published by the Chicago Tribune. “Other schools have more limited capacity, and may provide learning packets and other materials for students to use during this illegal work stoppage.”

Martinez did say that the district is working on a remote learning plan, but it’s unclear when it would need to be implemented, and he also said that teachers will have to return to buildings to collect materials to craft learning plans.

He said that under state law, any remote learning would have to come out of “emergency days” unless a public health emergency were declared by the city. Any other remote learning days would have to be made up at the end of the school year once those “emergency days” were exhausted.

In a tweet following the vote Tuesday, in which 73% of rank-and-file members voted in favor of returning to remote learning, the union said that it will call for teachers to return to classrooms under the following conditions:

-The current surge in COVID cases substantially subsides, OR

-The mayor's team at CPS signs an agreement establishing conditions for return that are voted on and approved by the CTU House of Delegates.

The mayor likened the stalemate in negotiations over a new safety agreement to the film “Groundhog Day."

“It feels like Groundhog Day, that we’re here again, at this hour, after everything we’ve gone through in the last two years with CTU leadership,” she said.

The mayor, in a late Tuesday press conference, said that Martinez asked CTU President Jesse Sharkey to delay the vote so that CPS officials could present new frameworks for a safety plan, and Lightfoot said that the request was rejected.

Prior to the vote, Lightfoot criticized the move as an “illegal work stoppage,” and said that she wanted to focus on working together to reach a safety agreement.

“The worst thing we can do is to shut the entire system down. What we need to be focused on is working together,” she said. “What I’d love to see CTU do is not force an illegal work stoppage. What I’d love to see them do is work hand-in-glove with us to get kids and their families vaccinated.”

The teachers' union has cited rising numbers of COVID cases among both students and teachers as part of the reason they are seeking a temporary switch to remote learning, while also criticizing CPS for not providing adequate testing and improved masking, along with other mitigations, in the wake of the omicron surge.

CTU leaders have argued that the current surge is making teachers and students more vulnerable, and that the district has already botched safety protocols, including a holiday testing program and data collection.

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