Chicago Public Schools officials announced Friday that teachers who do not show up to work on Monday will not be eligible for pay.
"We know that a small portion of staff members may choose not to return. Those individuals will be deemed absent without leave, and they will not be eligible for pay going forward," CPS CEO Janice Jackson said.
Jackson said the disciplinary measure is not taken lightly by CPS and can be avoided is staff chooses to return to school Monday.
"We believe we've done every single thing within our power to ensure a safe return to school in this situation can be avoided," Jackson said.
When asked if that progressive discipline policy could lead to firings, Jackson demurred.
"It is a progressive discipline policy. So we hope that by reminding folks of the expectations - look, at the end of the day, it serves no one's interest to fire teachers, so I'm not going to lead with that," Jackson said. "But we do have a clear policy around expectations to return to work. We should also be reminded that thousands of individuals in our school system have been reporting to work since the pandemic began: our nutrition support staff, our principals and administrators, some central office staff, as well as security and others throughout the building."
As of Monday, just over half of all teachers ordered to report to city public schools did not show up to prepare for in-person instruction beginning next week, CPS said.
A total of 60.2% of all school-based staff required to return reported to work Monday, Jackson said. That included 49.7% of all teachers and 70% of all paraprofessionals, she said. By Friday, Jackson said the number grew to 65%.
"These teachers chose to attend school despite significant pressure from union leadership, which is openly engaged encouraged both parents and students to remain out of the classroom in defiance of actual public health guidance," Jackson said.
Jackson noted that approximately 83% of employees were present on the first two days after winter break in early 2020, which she said was the district's typical attendance expectation.
CPS sent emails to all individuals who were expected to return to schools yesterday but did not swipe in, Jackson said, to ensure the district hadn't missed anything and to reiterate the expectations. She noted that the district intends to "continue to remind individuals who don't report to work of our expectations."
Of the roughly 5,000 teachers ordered to report to school buildings on Monday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said over the weekend that about 1,800 asked for special accommodations and only about 600 received them.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS officials confirmed Friday the first round of students will return to classrooms on Monday as part of the district's plan for all students to eventually return to in-person instruction, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
"What this all boils down to is giving families the option to make the best decision for themselves," Lightfoot said, noting 77,000 families have indicated to CPS they want their children to return to the classroom. "Many of whom rely upon their school communities to make sure that their children get a warm meal and a safe place to be so they can fulfill their God-given talents."
Lightfoot dispelled myths about poor building ventilation and lack of PPE, saying the district spent $8.5 million to equip every classroom and front office with a HEPA filter and to provide masks and other needed equipment to ensure safety of teachers, students and staff.
The mayor said she felt confident about the district's ability to support students on Monday and going forward.
"We are doing everything that we can to place safety in this pandemic at the front and center of what we are doing," she said, "and using the learning from other schools' experiences to our benefit, but importantly, to the benefit of our school community."
Pre-Kindergarten and cluster program students are scheduled to return to classrooms beginning Jan. 8, for the first time since March of last year, according to the district's phased reopening plan.
"We fully expect teachers to be treated the absolute same way as any other employee. If they are in essential functions, we are asking them to come back to work and failure to do so we will follow the progressive discipline process."
While pre-K and cluster program students were expected to return on Monday, staff members for kindergarten through eighth grades will be back in school buildings on Monday, Jan. 25, followed by their students the next Monday, Feb. 1, per the district's plan. No date has been set for high school students, who are expected to continue with remote learning under the district's reopening plan.
The district's reopening plan has been met with resistance from CTU and elected officials over concerns that the district does not have a comprehensive coronavirus testing and contact tracing program, among other issues.
CTU said Monday that educators who returned to schools reported "problems with cleanliness, safety protocols, ventilation and more."
In late December, CPS supported an open letter in the Chicago Sun-Times from 17 physicians who stated returning to school was safe, adding that they "cannot understate the serious psychological harm that prolonged virtual school has had on many children."
In a statement, CPS said overwhelming scientific evidence, expert guidance and experiences of districts across Illinois show schools can safely reopen with a plan in place.
"The CTU has not identified any area where the district’s plan falls short of public health guidelines and CTU’s last minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning," the statement continued.
On Sunday, more than 30 Chicago aldermen signed a letter to Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, listing nine steps they want the district to take before students return to class. The suggestions included establishing a clear health criteria for reopening and improving technology for those who continue with remote learning.
The school district released an eight page response Sunday in which it addressed the concerns brought up by the aldermen.