The CTU presented a new proposal to Mayor Lori Lightfoot Saturday that the union said would provide clarity on a return to the classroom, create increased safety and testing protocols and restart the education process for students who have been out of class since Wednesday.
The union voted last Tuesday night to teach virtually, saying conditions for in-person learning were unsafe due to the recent surge of Covid-19 fueled by the Omicron variant. The union cited inadequate staffing and testing as new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations among children reached record highs.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which serves about 340,000 students, responded by canceling school altogether, saying there was no way to send kids to class without knowing if teachers would be there and that schools are safe, insisting children needed to return to classrooms.
Along with a series of Covid-19 mitigation measures, the CTU’s latest proposal calls for a resumption of in-person work for union members beginning Monday, with virtual learning beginning for CPS students on Wednesday, according to the proposal. CTU proposed resuming in-person instruction on Tuesday, January 18, “unless (the Chicago Department of Public Health) or the State of Illinois determine that public health conditions are not safe for in-person school at the time.”
Shortly after the union’s proposal was announced, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez issued their own joint statement, saying CTU leaders were “not listening.”
“The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible,” the statement said. “That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”
Lightfoot told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday that she wanted a deal over the weekend. She reiterated that while officials are willing to shut down individual schools if needed, district-wide remote learning was not an option.
City officials have called the standoff a work stoppage. The union says it’s a lockout, because teachers want to teach from home until the current surge peaks, but the district canceled classes entirely.
CTU organizer Tennille Evans told reporters on Friday that teachers are ready to work “under safe conditions” and they are asking for “testing, testing, testing” among other mitigation measures.
“All we are asking is that we would like our students to test negative before entering in the building,” teacher Briana Hambright-Hall said. “A two-week pause (of in-person learning) is not too much.”
“I want to make sure that they are safe. I want to make sure that I am safe,” second grade teacher Falin Johnson said. “I want to make sure my daughters and my elderly grandparents are safe as well.”
City officials have continued to reiterate that schools are safe with the mitigation measures the district has put in place.
“What we’ve seen over and over again is that with the appropriate protocols in place, schools are not major sources of transmission of Covid,” Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady told CNN this week. “They don’t drive outbreaks, and we’ve seen Chicago Public Schools — just like our non-public schools in Chicago — do a good job of implementing those.”
CNN’s Raja Razek and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.