Chicago students returning to school after teachers union and city agree on Covid-19 safety measures

Teachers in the district returned to work Tuesday, the day voting opened for the union’s 25,000 members to approve or reject the compromise reached with the district.

Negotiations between CTU and the city came as school districts across the country grapple with balancing the advantages of in-person instruction with health concerns as the highly transmissible Omicron variant drives up case counts.

“I’m certainly relieved to go back to the classroom and see my students, and my kids are really excited to go back, too,” said Kathryn Rose, a Chicago teacher and parent of school-aged children. “It’s been frustrating to sit at home, healthy, and wanting to be in the classroom.”

Rose said she always felt safe with the school’s mitigation measures and didn’t feel a district-wide shutdown was necessary.

“When you shut down schools, you’re ignoring the multitude of dangers outside of the classroom, like abuse and hunger and lack of heat and violence. And these are things that families in Chicago are really struggling with,” Rose said.

Xuan-Vu Nguyen, whose 12-year-old son is a student in the district, said she’s also relieved schools are reopening. “My first reaction was, ‘Yay!'”

But, she added, “We’re anxious about if and when this is going to happen again at no notice whatsoever.”

Parents didn’t receive a lot of advance warning of the school closures and her family had to drop everything to accommodate the change, Nguyen said, which left her feeling frustrated. “I was, as a parent, left with no power. Nowhere to voice my concerns, nowhere to ask questions, really, about when this was going to end.”

Union members voting on proposed deal

The tentative agreement reached between the union, CTU, and the district will extend through the rest of the school year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

As part of the deal, Covid-19 testing in schools will ramp up to 10% of students in each school being tested each week, CTU chief of staff Jen Johnson said.

The mayor’s office will work with the teachers union on engaging families to increase testing consents, Lightfoot said. “That’s a critical part of it,” she said. “We want to get to as high a number in testing consents as we possibly can.”

The proposal includes details on contact tracing and new incentives to increase the number of substitutes in the district, the mayor said.

The two sides also “reached an agreement on the metrics for, at a school-based level, for when we needed to convert a classroom or school to go remote. Not surprisingly, the component parts of that depend upon staff and or student absences,” she said.

Full details on the agreement were expected to be released after the union’s rank-and-file members vote on the proposal.

The vote began late Tuesday and is expected to be open for 24 hours, in time for a regularly scheduled CTU House of Delegates meeting Wednesday afternoon, a union official told CNN on Tuesday.

The proposal is expected to be approved by members, the union official said.

If the rank-and-file union members reject the proposed agreement, the decision on how to proceed would go back to the House of Delegates. Options could include staying in-person as negotiations continue or returning to a push for remote classes while final negotiations go on.

Pandemic is impacting schools nationwide

The impasse in Chicago began last week when the union voted to begin teaching virtually due to rising Covid-19 cases in the school system. In response, the school district canceled classes during negotiations, keeping 340,000 students out of class.

On January 4, the last day students were in classrooms, Chicago Public Schools reported 422 new Covid-19 cases among students and 271 new cases among adults — both record highs for the academic year.

Desperate to fill teacher shortages, school districts ask parents and various staff to become substitutes
Nationwide, the vast majority of schools are operating as normal, but there are at least 2,685 schools not offering in-person learning as of Tuesday, according to data company Burbio, which aggregates data based on school calendars and other sources.
In Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, 66,000 cases of Covid-19 were reported among students and staff as they returned to in-person instruction Tuesday. The district required a Covid-19 test for all students and employees, regardless of vaccination status, before they returned from winter break. Superintendent Megan Reilly said every adult on school campuses and more than 80% of students older than 12 are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The Clark County School District in Nevada — the fourth largest in the US — is taking a “five-day pause” starting Friday to deal with its “extreme staffing shortages based on the high number of positive Covid-19 cases.” Students will not have school Friday, or next Tuesday, January 18. Monday was already scheduled as a day off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In Philadelphia, nearly a third of the city’s schools have shifted to remote learning due to a combination of the threshold level of positive cases of Covid-19 and a review of staffing data. “We will continue to make school-by-school decisions based on the most current staffing data, and ask that you prepare for the possibility of virtual learning at any time,” Superintendent Dr. William Hite said in a statement Tuesday.
From Europe to the US, Covid cases in children are surging. Schools aren't prepared
Public schools in Cincinnati are temporarily going remote due to “ongoing staff shortages that are the result of increased community spread of Covid-19,” the district said in a statement Monday.
Schools in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will go virtual beginning January 18, with a return to in-person instruction planned for January 24 “if conditions improve,” according to a statement from the district.

Superintendent Larry Chavez said the shift is due to a spike in Covid-19 cases. “SFPS ended last week with 361 cases involving students and staff, the largest ever in one week for our district, with many still being investigated. Cases could rise to near 600 this week and we have seen increased spread in classrooms,” Chavez said.

CNN’s Omar Jimenez, Raja Razek, Amir Vera, and Adrienne Broaddus contributed to this report.


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