CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Teachers Union has requested a mediator to step in amid an ongoing dispute with the Chicago Public Schools over plans to resume in-person classes for some students during the second quarter, which began Monday.

The district has yet to set a date for when it plans to bring students in Pre-K and some special education cluster programs back for in-person learning, but the CTU said a recent survey of parents showed they overwhelmingly rejected putting kids back in the classroom until the spread of COVID-19 is under control.

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“Seventy-two percent of parents in that poll said that community spread of the virus has to be under control before we return to in-person schooling,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.

The union is formally requesting CPS enter mediation with a third party, saying the district’s plan for reopening lacks transparency, and the district has not engaged in meaningful bargaining with the union over how to resume in-person classes for some students in the second quarter.

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bolton claimed the district is not legally required to bargain with the union over the decision to reopen, but is reviewing their request for mediation.

We continue to meet and work with CTU, as we have all year, in the hopes they will become a productive partner in getting students safely back to in-person learning,” Bolton said in a statement. 

Service Employees International Union Local 73 also has expressed concerns about the health risks for its members at CPS.

“We understand that managing the school and parents’ expectations is a big job. That’s why we’re willing to share that load. If CPS would sit down and negotiate with us fairly, we could figure out the best way to get the kids back in school. So I’m urging CPS to work with the unions to help families and children thrive,” said SEIU Local 73 president Dian Palmer.

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.

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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.

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 and delay the district’s plans to resume in-person learning for pre-K and some special education cluster programs until the district bargains with the union over how to do so.

Last week, the labor board rejected that request for an injunction, ruling CPS has not violated labor law, because a specific date for a return has not yet been scheduled, and would only need to negotiate with the union over terms of a safe return to classes once a schedule has been set.

The board 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 started Monday.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff