Some CPS Teachers and Students Return to Schools Under New Plan for In-Person Learning

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Some staff and students at Chicago Public Schools return to classrooms on Thursday under a new framework approved by the district and the Chicago Teachers Union earlier this week.

Pre-K and cluster program students and teachers return to classrooms Thursday, with elementary school staff and students slated to return in the coming weeks. The return to schools comes a little over one day after members of the CTU voted to approve an agreement union leaders reached with the district in negotiations over the weekend.

The CTU said said 13,681 union members voted in favor of the proposal, representing 67.5% of the ballots cast, with another 6,585 members voting against the deal, which brings some teachers and students back to classrooms as early as Thursday.

The agreement was reached on Sunday after weeks of contentious negotiations.

CPS and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Sunday that the schedule for teachers and students to return is as follows:

Group/GradeStaff Start DateStudent Start Date
Pre-K & Students in intensive and moderate cluster classroomsFebruary 11February 11
Kindergarten—Grade 5February 22March 1
Grade 6—Grade 8March 1March 8

CPS said about 20% of students have opted for a return to in-person learning, with 80% continuing with remote learning for the time being. The district said Sunday that families who chose to continue remote learning will have another opportunity to return to schools before the start of the fourth quarter that begins in April.

On vaccinations, CPS said 2,000 pre-k and cluster staff, as well as staff who have medically vulnerable members of their household but were not given an accommodation to continue teaching remotely, will be offered vaccinations beginning this week. The district said the staff who accepted the "expedited vaccination opportunity" must commit to returning to schools within two weeks of receiving their first doses.

The district said it also agreed to administer vaccinations to 1,500 employees per week out of the city's supply at CPS' vaccination sites that will open later this month, and noted that staff at the city's 15 communities most impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible to be vaccinated through the city's "Protect Chicago Plus" initiative.

All education workers in Illinois are eligible to be vaccinated in the state's current phase of vaccinations, Phase 1B which began last month.

The agreement between CTU and CPS also includes metrics to return to all remote learning if the pandemic worsens. The district will move to online learning for at least 14 calendar days if the city's rolling 7-day average test positivity rate: increases for seven consecutive days, is at least 15% higher each of those days than the rate one week prior and if the rate is 10% or higher on the 7th day.

Should that happen, CPS will resume in-person learning after 14 days or when the positivity rate no longer meets those three metrics, whichever happens later, the district said.

For individual pods, in-person learning will be paused when there has been one confirmed positive COVID-19 case and for individual schools, the district says it will implement a "school-wide operational pause when there are three or more confirmed positive cases in three or more different classrooms at a school within a 14-day period."

Rank-and-file members of the Chicago Teachers Union are voting Tuesday on the framework to return to in-person learning. Sandra Torres reports.

The district said it will continue to grant approval for remote work for employees at increased risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 or for those who serve as primary caregivers for family members at increased risk. CPS said that other accommodation requests will be granted "when operationally feasible and consistent with providing a high quality learning experience to in-person students" and that any union member who is not granted an accommodation and is not fully vaccinated can take unpaid leave with benefits during the third quarter.

The deal also includes agreements on health and safety protocols (like health screenings, access to personal protective equipment, cleaning protocols and more), a plan for enhanced ventilation in schools, as well as the creation of a contact tracing team plus districtwide and school-level health and safety committees to oversee implementation.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey slammed Lightfoot and the district in announcing that the deal had been ratified early Wednesday, saying the 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," Sharkey wrote in an email to the union's rank-and-file members. "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," he continued, adding that the deal did put teachers in a "vastly better position" than they were in November.

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