Negotiations between Chicago Teachers Union and city officials stretch into another week as school is canceled for the fourth day

The union wants a period of remote learning, while the city wants kids in classrooms.

As of Friday, Chicago was averaging more than 5,200 new cases a day, a 16% increase over the prior week, according to the city health department’s Covid tracker. The city’s Covid-19 test positivity rate had a daily average of 21.1%.
“Out of fairness and consideration for parents who need to prepare, classes will be canceled again Monday. Although we have been negotiating hard throughout the day, there has not been sufficient progress for us to predict a return to class tomorrow,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted late Sunday. “We will continue to negotiate through the night and will provide an update if we have made substantial progress,” she said.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is the third-largest school district in the country, serving more than 340,000 students.

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.

Chicago students have been out of school since Wednesday

CTU voted Tuesday night to teach virtually, saying conditions for in-person learning were unsafe, citing inadequate staffing and testing as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations among children in the city reached record highs. In response, CPS canceled classes.

On Tuesday, the last day classes were held, the school system reported 422 new Covid-19 cases among students and 271 new cases among adults — both record highs for the academic year.

CTU presented a new proposal to Lightfoot Saturday, which 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.

The proposal called for a resumption of in-person work for union members beginning Monday, with virtual learning beginning for CPS students on Wednesday. CTU proposed resuming in-person instruction 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 proposal was announced, 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 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.

Parents caught in the middle

CTU organizer Tennille Evans said 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.”

Chicago principals say they were blindsided by announcement some schools might offer in-person learning Friday

“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.”

While city officials and CTU continue negotiations, parents and students are stuck in limbo.

Megan Hasse, a CPS parent, told CNN affiliate WBBM she sides with the mayor and wants kids back in the classroom, but says there should be options for parents to choose in-person learning or to stay remote.

“I think that there has to be an option for both sides of this argument,” she said. “Those that want to go in person who, for their kid, that is the best option, they should be able to do that. And for those that want remote, we need to be able to provide options for them as well.”

CNN’s Omar Jimenez, Keith Allen and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.


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