Negotiators are continuing to work toward a resolution to the ongoing conflict between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union over a return to in-person learning in the city.
On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson announced that a “cooling-down period” would take place over the next 48 hours, with teachers allowed to work remotely amid continuing negotiations.
Students will participate in remote learning each of the next two days amid the cool down, according to CPS officials.
That news comes after a weekend that saw Lightfoot demand that teachers return to classrooms Monday or potentially face consequences, including a potential lockout of educators. Lightfoot said that teachers who failed to come to classrooms on Monday would be considered as unexcused absences, and that the district would be forced to “take action” as a result.
Instead, negotiations remain ongoing between teachers and the district, with the hopes that a resolution will be reached on the outstanding issues involved in bringing educators back into the classroom.
“I think that’s a really good move,” CPS parent Melissa Macek said. “I think both sides getting so heated that they were forgetting the kids in the middle getting pulled back and forth.”
According to Lightfoot, Monday’s announcement came as the two sides “reached tentative agreements” on several outstanding issues related to returning to classrooms this winter. Teachers have been pushing for better contact tracing, improved ventilation in schools, and above all else, accelerated vaccination programs to ensure that educators and staff can remain safe while returning to schools.
Originally, teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade were supposed to return to class last week, with students following suit Monday, but a CTU vote caused teachers to revert back to remote learning only amid the dispute. That included teachers who had already been back in classrooms for pre-K classes and cluster learning programs.
Those students switched back to remote learning as a result, and students in K-8 were left wondering whether they would be continuing on that path as well.
Some parents are adamant that students need to return to classrooms as soon as possible.
“It’s much harder on the kids for mental and behavioral health,” parent Diane Pech said. “I’ve seen my son his anger and aggression has increased. He keeps thinking he’s going back and he’s confused.”
Still, other parents have expressed concerns about a return to classrooms, especially with new variants of the coronavirus emerging that could potentially be more contagious than existing strains.
“I’m still really concerned how harshly CPS is pushing the reopening plan,” parent Kate Sadowski said. “These new more contagious strains of the virus are going around, and I don’t think the plan that district put forward very well thought out. I tend to agree with the teachers that the plan is not safe.”
Lightfoot has defended the school district’s plans to reopen, saying that it has pulled lessons from Chicago Archdiocese schools and charter schools that resumed in-person learning in recent months. The plan was also signed off on by Dr. Allison Arwady, the director of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Teachers are still looking for more safety measures as a part of the plan, but say that the mayor’s decision not to lock educators out of work beginning Tuesday is heartening.
“We don’t want a strike,” union President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. “We want to keep working remotely as we bargain an agreement to return to our classrooms safely.”