Members of the Chicago Teachers Union approved a deal with Chicago Public Schools to return to in-person learning, the union announced early Wednesday.
About 67.5% of ballots cast were in favor of the deal, which brings some teachers and students back to classrooms as early as Thursday.
While the deal is now a ratified agreement between the district and the union, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a letter to members announcing the results that it "is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families."
The union and the district have been at odds over the return to in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic for months of contentious negotiations, with the union saying CPS' plan did not provide for proper safety protocols, vaccinations for staff and more issues that made the framework unsafe.
District officials and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot repeatedly insisted that the plan had been vetted by health experts and that the safety protocols in place were sufficient - a claim Sharkey refuted in his letter, which also highlighted the union's vote of no confidence in Lightfoot and CPS leadership.
Sharkey's letter can be read in full below:
Sisters and Brothers:
The proposed framework is now a ratified agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools.
Let me be clear. This plan is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families. The fact that CPS could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparations in schools is a disgrace. Yet the mayor and CPS leadership were willing to do even further harm to our school district to maintain that posture. That's how much they care about real safety for students, their families and the educators and school staff who support them.
This agreement represents where we should have started months ago, not where this has landed. That is a stain on the record of their administration. In a humane system, we would have used this as a beginning to build out real equity for school communities that had been starved of resources and equity decades before the pandemic hit.
This agreement also puts us in a vastly better position than we were in November, when even after months of struggle, CPS' "planning" and "preparation" would have been laughable were it not also so dangerous. Our school clerks and technology coordinators reported the threats to safety that they saw on the ground for months, while CPS did nothing. They will now have access to vaccines and enforceable safety measures that should have been in place before they had ever been asked to step foot back into the buildings.
We will protect ourselves by using the school Safety Committees created under this agreement to organize and see that CPS meets safety standards and mitigation protocols. Safety Committees will enforce this agreement, have access to information and the ability to change unsafe practices in their school.
The agreement also lays out gains on accommodations, vaccinations, delayed re-opening, school closing metrics, and more. Again, although thousands of members gained telework accommodations to protect their health or at-risk loved ones, we did not get what we wanted or what we deserved. We got what we were able to take. CTU members fought hard and sacrificed for this, so we have to protect and use it.
Talk to your delegate, read the agreement, and make sure your school community understands the safety standards, rights and options our members will now have access to.
Be clear: Basic safety shouldn't even be a negotiation, let alone a privilege – yet it is in Chicago, under this mayor. It's time for mayoral control of our public schools to end. That's why delegates overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in the mayor and the leadership of the Chicago Public Schools on Monday night.
We know that educators have not been standing in the way of reopening. A pandemic that has taken millions of live across the world has. In Chicago, the pandemic has collided directly into our students' lives, into the very Black and Brown neighborhoods that CPS and the City have starved of resources for decades. Thousands of students have lost at least one loved one to COVID. Those children – our students – deserve safety.
Our parents and school families stood with us in this struggle, because we stood up for safety for all: for fellow school staff, for their children in our schools, and for their elders and at-risk loved ones at home. They challenged the double-talk of equity in the mayor's office, while the mayor's hand-picked board rejected every equity proposal at the table. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to them, and to all of the people of this city who believed in us and supported this fight.
No-one sacrificed more in this struggle than our rank and file members who were locked out, docked pay or faced discipline, and we owe them our most profound thanks for making the impossible possible. Those educators – Corkery cluster teacher Linda Perales, Sadlowski teacher Quentin Washington, Lawndale Community Academy teacher assistant Shavon Coleman, and so many more – are the leaders that finally moved the bargaining table. They made CPS finally negotiate. They delayed reopening. They cracked open the mayor’s hypocrisy. On Tuesday, the day we were voting on this agreement, CPS began at last to reinstate those locked out workers.
This week, we're mourning our beloved sister and President Emerita Karen JG Lewis. Karen would have been so proud of our rank and file: our unity, our democracy, our determination to fight for the common good, and the solidarity at the heart of our strength. Please join us at her shiva Wednesday and Thursday to share your memories and celebrate her fearlessness, her brilliance, her humor and her great humanity.
More details on what the reopening agreement includes can be found here.