Chicago Public Schools

‘This Is Not Chicago, This Is New York:' NYC Mayor Takes Dig at City's Handling of CTU Negotiations

The school district and Chicago Teachers Union had been at odds over the past two weeks regarding issues around COVID-19 metrics that will lead to individual school closures and compensation

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams took a dig at Chicago in a public address Thursday, calling out the city's handling of negotiations between officials and the teachers' union over updated COVID-19 safety protocols in schools.

"This is not Chicago, this is New York, where we are communicating with each other because we're both emotionally intelligent and we can resolve this. We can get through these crisis and we will find the right way to educate our children in a very safe environment," Adams said in his address.

Adams is considering allowing New York City schools to return to some form of virtual instruction amid a wave of coronavirus cases, a reversal from his pledge a week ago to keep children in schools.

New York's mayor said at a news conference Thursday that he still believes the safest place for children to be is in school, “but we do have to be honest that there’s a substantial number of children, for whatever reason, parents are not bringing them to school.”

After four days of missed instruction, Chicago Public Schools and the teacher's union concluded negotiations this week, as the House of Delegates voted to suspend the union’s remote work action.

As a result, teachers returned to classrooms on Tuesday, and students returned to in-person learning on Wednesday. However, some students said CPS and the teachers' union neglected their concerns.

A letter detailing the latest COVID safety protocols went out to CPS families Thursday, which included information on the newly agreed upon KN95 masks available to students and staff from the city.

“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," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a Monday press conference.

Chicago Teachers Union 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.

"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, 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.

CPS CEO Pedro 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.

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.

Classes were canceled for more than 300,000 CPS students for 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.

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.

Some Chicago Public Schools students plan to walk out of classes Friday in a move to protest a return to classrooms, making their way downtown to CPS headquarters.

"We demand CPS fund and put in practice, like, all types of mutual aid projects -- such as coat, food and resource drives. Fully funding CTA to all students, reloading EBT cards," one students said.

Organized by Chi-RADS, Chicago Public School's Radical Youth Alliance, students from at least 30 schools are expected to walk out at 12:30 on Friday.

Several groups planned smaller rallies outside the individual schools before making their way to CPS headquarters, located at 42 W. Madison, where a larger rally is planned for 1:45 p.m.

"It won't just be youth downtown," a Chi-RADS member said. "Parents have said that they're going to show up, and then outside supports will, as well."

As part of the full list of demands from Chi-RADS, students are asking CPS to provide every student with a personal laptop, personal tutors outside of school hours and fully funding for arts programs, among other requirements.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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