Chicago Public Schools

CPS Will Lock Out Teachers Who Don't Report to Schools Monday

Union officials said the latest offer from CPS is a "threat" to cut students off from schooling

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Chicago Public Schools pre-K and cluster teachers and staff who don't have an accommodation will be required to report to classrooms Monday, the district said Friday evening, hours after it presented the Chicago Teachers Union with its "last, best and final offer" in the in-person learning dispute.

Pre-K and cluster teachers and staff who fail to report will be deemed absent without leave, and access to CPS systems will be terminated at the close of business Monday.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said Friday the latest offer from CPS "cannot stand" and is a "threat" to cut students off from schooling.

Sharkey's comments were made in a letter emailed to CTU members on Friday afternoon, saying Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot "has walked away from the bargaining table again" after submitting the offer Thursday night.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said they had "yet to receive a formal response in writing today from CTU leadership," adding "the ball is in their court."

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."

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."

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."

Under a revised plan announced Friday evening, pre-K and cluster teachers and staff are expected to return Monday, with students joining them Tuesday.

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.

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