After four days of missed instruction, there has been a breakthrough in negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the city’s teachers’ union, as the House of Delegates has voted to suspend the union’s remote work action.
According to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, teachers will return to classrooms on Tuesday, and students will return to in-person learning on Wednesday.
“Our goal throughout this entire process was to both get our students back to in-person learning as quickly as possible, and to prevent work disruptions for the rest of the school year," she said during a Monday press conference.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey called the negotiations "unpleasant," and said that while the agreement was less-than-perfect, the union should take pride in the deal made with city officials.
Get Chicago local news, weather forecasts, sports and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Chicago newsletters.
"It’s not a perfect agreement, but it’s something we can hold our heads up about," he said during a Monday press conference.
Monday evening, the CTU announced that its remote-learning move would be suspended because of the agreement, with a vote by the union’s rank-and-file members on the proposed agreement expected this week.
Martinez said that the new agreement comes with new metrics for when a classroom or school needs to go to remote-learning, depending on student absences or staffing issues. Lightfoot said that the full text of the agreement will be made public after it is ratified by teachers.
The city also added new expanded testing, with a big boost from the state, and there will also be additional funding for new PPE and other materials for schools, along with new contact tracing proposals, according to Lightfoot.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez announced that enrichment programs will once again be available in some schools on Tuesday, but said that classes will remain canceled at most buildings.
Lightfoot hailed the agreement as a step forward after a contentious process.
“As long as I’m mayor, I’ll always be on the side of our children and our families," Lightfoot said. “I want to make sure we’re providing the same kind of opportunities for learning and nurturing and growth for every single student in our system, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of ZIP code.”
Classes were canceled for more than 300,000 CPS students over the last four school days after teachers voted to switch to remote learning last week in defiance of threats by Lightfoot that educators would be committing an "illegal work stoppage" by doing so.
Sharkey defended the decision to vote for the switch to remote learning, saying that the union had raised numerous concerns to CPS over the summer and fall, to no avail.
“It became clear to us that the Board of Ed didn’t want to bargain with us about a lot of the key safety features that we felt we needed,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey said it was a gradual process of seeing cases increase, along with the city's hesitance to install more robust contact tracing and testing protocols that led to the discussions of a switch to remote learning.
“The omicron variant emerged in late November. It came fast, and it came to a school system that did not have the trust, nor the mitigations nor the operations in place to deal with it properly,” he said.
Approximately 73% of teachers had voted in favor of a switch to remote learning, but some teachers who didn't support the move continued to report to schools.
By Monday, three schools, including Mount Greenwood Elementary, were able to open, according to district officials. Parents at the largely white school on the city's southwest side expressed relief.
City officials had argued that schools are safe with protocols in place. School leaders have touted a $100 million safety plan, including air purifiers in each classroom. Roughly 91% of staff are vaccinated and masks are required indoors.
Union officials had argued the safety measures fall short amid record-breaking COVID-19 cases and the district has botched testing and a database tracking infections.
This story features reporting by the Associated Press.