CHICAGO (CBS) — A labor board on Thursday denied a request by the Chicago Teachers Union for an injunction that would delay the reopening of the Chicago Public Schools.
The issue stemmed from a request by the union for more Chicago Public Schools employees to work from home. The union said conditions during the pandemic are still cause for concern.
The ruling was made by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. CPS had said if the request had been approved, it would have “effectively put control over school reopening into the union’s hands.”
The dispute between CPS and CTU has been going on for a while now. School clerks and tech coordinators represented by the union don’t feel comfortable working in school buildings because of the pandemic, so CTU took action.
In late August, the union filed a grievance against CPS, arguing that clerks and tech coordinators should be allowed to work remotely instead of in buildings they feel are unsafe.
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An arbitrator in the case ruled those employees should be allowed to work remotely when feasible, rather than be required to report to work in person.
The union said the arbitrator’s ruling affects 1,000 people working inside CPS buildings since Aug. 31.
But CTU claimed CPS didn’t follow that ruling. That’s why they took the case to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, seeking an injunction forcing CPS to enforce the arbitrator’s ruling.
In a statement, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said late Thursday: “The district commends the IELRB on its unanimous ruling that denied the CTU’s claims for injunctive relief. We have a moral obligation to plan for a pathway to reopening, and we will continue to work with the CTU in the hopes they engage as productive partners and help us lift up the students and families who need our collective support.”
CTU General Counsel Thaddeus Goodchild expressed disappointment in the ruling, saying the CPS did not provide notice or bargain with the union when it set the return date for pre-kindergarten and special education students for the second quarter. This sparked the unfair labor practice charge and the request for the injunction.
“The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) today denied the Union’s request for preliminary injunction while the case proceeds to trial on the very narrow grounds that CPS hasn’t yet set a date for reopening — and hasn’t yet directed any teachers back — saying injunction would be premature. The acting chair of the IELRB said that the denial comes with the caveat that she believes the IELRB should revisit the injunction request if CPS sets a reopening date or directs teachers back without bargaining,” Goodchild said in the statement.
He continued: “While we are disappointed that the IELRB declined to issue an injunction today, we are encouraged by the narrow basis for the denial. We will continue to press CPS to meet its legal obligations to bargain over the criteria upon which the decision to resume in-person learning will be made, and the health and safety measures that must be in place before that decision is made.”
Representatives with both CTU and CPS spoke at Thursday’s hearing.
“I think we have a very real dispute, and I think that the board is perfectly justified in going ahead to trying to resolve it,” union attorney Stephen Yokich said.
“This is a significant case. If the board should determine that an injunction is warranted, it will effectively put control over school reopening into the union’s hands. Whether or not students come back to school this year will be decided by the CTU. They want to override the input of all other stakeholders; parents, community, staff, state and local government,” CPS attorney Sally Scott said.
Ultimately, the labor board denied CTU’s request for an injunction, it said it would be open to reviewing the case again when CPS announces a date for some students to resume in-person classes.
The district has said it plans to have students in Pre-K and some special education cluster programs return to school buildings sometime during the second quarter, but has not set a specific date yet. The second quarter starts this coming Monday.
Meantime, on Wednesday, CPS announced that recent air quality assessments of all its school building showed a vast majority of classrooms are “prepared for safe occupancy.”
CPS students have been learning entirely remotely since April due to the pandemic, and the district said it has since hired an independent state-certified environmental hygienist to conduct an air quality assessment of all 513 district-run schools in order to ensure they’re safe before bringing any students back to classrooms.
According to CPS, that assessment determined 94% of the 36,000 spaces assessed in its building were cleared as safe, including 99% of the nearly 20,000 classrooms checked.
The district also announced plans to spend $8.5 million to provide more than 20,000 HEPA air purifiers for every classroom.