CHICAGO (CBS) — Despite Mayor Lori Lightfoot saying she had run out of patience with the Chicago Teachers Union, and wanted a deal to reopen schools by the end of the day on Thursday, no agreement has been reached, and the mayor and Chicago Public Schools officials delivered another ultimatum on Friday.
In a statement Friday morning, Lightfoot and CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson said the union provided them with their latest proposal for a deal to end the impasse about in-person schooling and the strike threat, “and responded with our last, best, and final offer. We expect a response from CTU leadership today.”READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Mainly Clear And Not As Cold Sunday Night
However, it appeared unlikely the district’s final offer would not be enough to reach an immediate settlement, as the CTU said the mayor and CPS “have walked away from the bargaining table again.”
“This is a pandemic, and that means our schools have to get every single mitigation protection right if we’re serious about keeping children and adults safe,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We’re deeply disappointed that the mayor has chosen to stop negotiating and instead move to lock out educators and shut down schools rather than work out our differences.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, Lightfoot and Jackson said they were still waiting for a formal response from CTU.
“The ball is in their court,” they said.
— Chris Tye (@TVTye) February 5, 2021
Friday is a scheduled day off for CPS students, after the district’s first semester ended on Thursday. Lightfoot and Jackson said they would be making an announcement about Monday’s classes later in the day on Friday.
Lightfoot on Thursday said she expects teachers and students back in school “as soon as possible,” but did not give a date.
In-person learning had been available for pre-kindergarten and some special education students since Jan 11, but after the union voted for teachers to return to remote work, the district has kept all students learning from home since Jan. 27. In-person classes originally were set to resume for kindergarten through 8th grade students on Monday, but that has been pushed back indefinitely amid the ongoing impasse over reopening schools.
Lightfoot and CPS leadership repeatedly threatened to lock out teachers who refused to show up in schools as required this week, but late Monday announced a 48-hour “cooling off period” and said teachers would not be locked out this week.
The mayor later extended that “cooling off period” an extra day to allow for further negotiations, but on Thursday Lightfoot said her patience with CTU leadership had run out, and she demanded a deal with the union by the end of the day.
“We need to get this deal done and get it done today, without further delay,” she said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have gotten it done yesterday, or Tuesday, or Monday, but today is the day.”
Joined by more than a dozen other local elected officials pressing Lightfoot and CPS to compromise with CTU, Johnson said the mayor and district leaders are trying to punish teachers who already were locked out of remote teaching last month when they refused to return to classrooms without a reopening agreement.
The union repeatedly has blamed the mayor and CPS for allowing talks to drag on as long as they have, saying the district spent months refusing to negotiate over reopening plans.
The mayor said Thursday that CPS and CTU have reached tentative agreements on five of eight areas — including ventilation, safety and health protocols, testing, contact tracing, and joint safety committees. But the two sides have yet to reach a deal on a vaccination plan, accommodations for teachers who live with someone with an underlying health condition, or metrics for closing schools again if cases start to rise again.
CTU officials said the city’s offer for closing schools again due to an outbreak “would pause in-person learning district-wide only if there are COVID-19 outbreaks in 50 percent of Chicago Public Schools buildings at the same time.”
“Meaning that COVID-19 cases in more than 200 schools would not be cause to consider the reinstitution of remote learning in the view of the mayor or CPS leadership,” the union said in a statement.
The union has pushed for a phased-in approach to returning to in-person classes tied to a scheduled vaccination program, but the union said the district’s offers have fallen short.READ MORE: At Least 20 Shot, 2 Killed In Weekend Violence In Chicago
The union also said the city has offered to set aside only 1,500 vaccine doses per week for CPS teachers and staff, without offering to give priority to workers expected to return to school buildings first or those living or working in communities hit hardest by the pandemic, while refusing to increase the allotted doses for CPS as supplies increase.
“Under that schedule, educators forced back into buildings could still be waiting until June for vaccinations through CPS, months after the mayor proposes to fully reopen school buildings,” the union said.
CTU also accused the district of refusing to make any improvements to remote learning, despite 80% of students opting to continue learning from home. The union said CPS rejected a proposal to reduce screen times for students and to provide additional technology for families.
In a Zoom meeting Friday morning, some teachers talked about what they want.
“It’s not safe. It is not safe. What we are asking for is a comprehensive vaccination plan for our employees who are asking that our employees who have family members with pre-existing conditions that might be more vulnerable to this virus receive the necessary accommodations. We’re asking for comprehensive testing throughout our system,” Dawn Kelly said.
CTU has said the agreements that have been reached so far “are the direct result of collective action from our members, and the support of parents and communities.
“Prior to educators voting overwhelmingly to exercise their right to work safely and remotely, CPS leadership said repeatedly that it did not have to negotiate a safe reopening. As a result, our union begged for earnest conversations with CPS leadership for months. But these conversations are now taking place as parties remain in constant communication and we are here, in the 11th hour, working towards a full agreement,” the union said in its own statement Thursday afternoon. “Our goal is, and has always been, a mutually agreed upon safe reopening plan for our schools. These decisions, however, cannot be made unilaterally in a vacuum. They require buy-in from all stakeholders in our school communities, and we will continue to lift democracy in soliciting feedback from educators and families in bargaining for the safe return that our students deserve.”
The union also sent an open letter to CPS parents on Thursday, saying “red flag after red flag has been raised” all through the past several months.
“We’ve seen CPS leadership fail to meet its own meager safety protocols, and fail to provide the PPE, deep cleaning and adequate ventilation it promised,” the union said in its letter.
CTU also said the mayor and CPS are still threatening to lock out teachers who refuse to show up in person.
“We sincerely hope that doesn’t happen. Thousands of our members are also CPS parents. We love your children. We desperately want to be back in classrooms with them, but we are not willing to accept the inevitable illness and death a reckless reopening will inflict on our city,” the union wrote.
However, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city has been making “excellent progress” in key COVID metrics, with the average positivity rate down to 5.4%, and approximately 539 new cases per day, compared to a rate of 16% and 3,000 new cases per day during the peak of the pandemic.
“This is the best shape our city has been in from a COVID perspective since the beginning of October,” she said.
Arwady also reiterated that, although there have been dozens of cases of coronavirus reported at schools since the first groups of teachers and students returned to classrooms last month, the vast majority of those involved only one case at an individual school, and said there have been no signs of outbreaks within schools.
“We know how to be careful about COVID. We know that you can’t have a completely normal in-school experience. You have to have masks. You have to have distancing. You have to have pods so that limited numbers of students are interacting. You have to pay extra attention to cleaning and disinfection,” she said. “Schools are just not the source of COVID spread like people thought they would be a year ago. The science continues to evolve, but at this point the answers could not be more clear.”
Lightfoot stressed that CPS already has agreed to allow teachers to work remotely if they have underlying health conditions, or are the primary caregiver for someone who does. She said the union has asked for additional accommodations for about 2,000 union members who live with someone who has an underlying health condition, but is not their primary caretaker.
“We have offered a very specific plan, including getting dedicated vaccine resources for them so that they can get vaccinated quickly and address issues in the household,” she said.
As CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported, the impact on students compounds. The impasse puts just-approved sports seasons in jeopardy, and grades were already suffering.
CBS 2 discovered that while the number of A grades have gone up in reading this remote-learning year, everything else suffered. B’s and C’s dropped, while D’s and F’s grew by 3%.
It is a nearly identical story for math during this remote year compared to 2020.MORE NEWS: Boy, 11, Shot And Wounded In West Pullman; He Is Second Child Shot In Area Within Week
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