Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced late Friday that Chicago Public Schools plans to welcome back some students to the classroom Monday even as the district has yet to reach an agreement in its in-person learning dispute with the Chicago Teachers Union.
"...Sadly another day has passed, and the CTU has not agreed to anything... not a final comprehensive agreement to end the stalemate and give parents and students the options they want and that they deserve," the mayor said at the news briefing alongside top CPS officials.
Lightfoot said CPS still intends to welcome pre-K and cluster program students back to the classroom Monday and resume in-person instruction for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
However, CTU has said remote instruction will continue Monday.
CPS asked parents of both pre-K students and students in cluster programs to keep their children home Wednesday through Friday as a result of the CTU's vote to switch back to all remote learning during negotiations.
Lightfoot said for the past two weeks, the two sides have been negotiating over the following issues: safety and health programs, ventilation, contact tracing, testing, accommodations for staff, safety committees, revised closing metrics and vaccinations.
While Lightfoot said there have been agreements in principle on a number of the issues, she contends CTU leadership has refused to put those agreements in writing.
The mayor also asked students and families to prepare for a scenario in which the CTU directs its members to not return to schools for in-person instruction.
"If that were to happen, that would of course be a crushing blow to our students and to CPS families," she said.
In response to Lightfoot's comments, the CTU said "in the last hour, the mayor has wrecked it all."
"Unfortunately, rather than build on the progress that has been made between our Union and the Chicago Public Schools bargaining team, Mayor Lightfoot is disrupting every possible settlement, compromise or partnership," the union said in a statement. "The educators in the room were close to reaching an agreement. The boss stepped in at the 11th hour and blew it to pieces."
The teachers union’s vote to switch back to all-remote learning took effect Wednesday, the same day that teachers of students in kindergarten through eighth grade were supposed to report to schools to begin preparations for the return of their students on Feb. 1.
That Wednesday start date was a delay from the original start date for teachers of Monday, which was pushed back after the union's members voted to not return to classrooms until after vaccinations.
CTU voted to authorize all rank-and-file educators to continue remote learning on Monday, a statement from the union said. CTU said 86% of its members participated in the vote, with 71% voting to continue remote learning.
After the union's House of Delegates voted last week to authorize all members to conduct remote work only, CPS said that remaining out of schools would be a "decision to strike" and in violation of their collective bargaining agreement.
The union disagrees, saying that its vote announced Sunday was based on "unsafe" working conditions and that it isn't tantamount to a work stoppage, since teachers would still be working remotely.
Lightfoot and CPS leader Dr. Janice Jackson have both said that it is safe for teachers and students to return to classrooms with safety protocols in place and the promise of COVID-19 vaccinations on the horizon.
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 against the virus.
The CTU called for a meditator to step into negotiations on Tuesday, a call that was endorsed by Lightfoot and Jackson during a Tuesday press conference.
Thousands of elementary and middle school staff and teachers were expected to return to schools this week, with an estimated 71,000 students scheduled to join them on Monday.