Chicago Public Schools

CTU Votes Against Return to In-Person Instruction, CPS Pushes Teachers' Start Date

Last week, some teachers once again held remote learning sessions outside their school buildings in protest of CPS' decision to permit in-person learning

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey speaks ahead of a car caravan where teachers and supporters gathered to demand a safe and equitable return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago, IL
Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Chicago Teachers Union members voted Sunday not to return to schools for in-person instruction before COVID-19 vaccinations, the union announced.

CTU voted to authorize all rank-and-file educators in Chicago Public Schools to continue remote learning beginning Monday, a release said.

CTU said 86% of members participated in the vote Sunday, with 71% voting to have continued in-person learning as of Monday, the first day teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade would be required to return to schools, though students do not return until Feb.1.

In response, CPS announced Sunday the district would push back the start date for teachers to return to classrooms from Monday to Wednesday to ensure enough time "to resolve discussions without risking disruption to student learning."

CPS said last week that remaining out of schools is a "decision to strike" and in violation of their collective bargaining agreement, after CTU's House of Delegates voted to authorize all union members to conduct remote work-only.

A limited number of students in pre-K and special needs classes returned to the classroom in recent weeks as both the union and district remain embroiled in a debate over resuming in-person instruction.

CPS officials on Friday announced a plan to vaccinate staff members in the next phase of the city's vaccination plan, as the district prepares to bring thousands of teachers and students back into classrooms.

CPS expects to begin receiving vaccines in mid-February, the district said, and will begin to distribute doses to employees at that time through school-based sites. The district noted that staff who are eligible to get vaccinated in Phase 1B can set up their own appointments through their health care provider or pharmacy.

CPS also said it has launched partnerships with health care organizations to vaccinate approximately 1,500 staff members in health care roles, who have been eligible to receive the vaccine under the current Phase 1A, over the next two weeks.

The district noted that it has created a "prioritization system" for the order in which staff will be able to get vaccinated. That strategy was developed "based on the level of exposure to others and ability to reliably maintain mitigation measures, as well as the amount of time the specific role has been serving in-person during the closure," CPS said.

Last week, some teachers once again held remote learning sessions outside their school buildings in protest of CPS' decision to permit in-person learning.

"We want to be in our classrooms, we want to be teaching our students, but we want to do it in a safe way," said teacher Linzi Melchor.

Parents, however, seem divided regarding whether resuming in-person instruction was the right thing to do.

One parent, Natasha Dunn, said CPS has made it safe enough to return to the classroom, and says the CTU needs to figure out a solution with the district that doesn't make remote learning the only option.

"We want our schools to be successful," Dunn said. "Striking and saying to not go back wait... it's not productive at all."

CTU continued its fight Thursday by organizing a news conference with medical experts and parents who support keeping students at home, citing health and safety concerns.

CPS officials criticized CTU's vote, saying that the leadership of the union wants to “close schools that are already safely open.”

The district said the vote would "cancel in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who asked to return — and the thousands of pre-K and cluster students who are already learning safely in classrooms."

"Our collective bargaining agreement includes a no-strike clause, and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has ruled a strike of this nature would be illegal," the district said in part. "The decision by the union to remain out of schools and deny families access to in-person school is a decision to strike."

Along with the thousands of elementary and middle school staff and teachers expected to return to classrooms next week, an estimated 71,000 students are scheduled to join them on Feb. 1.

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