Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson on Sunday ordered all teachers who don’t have permission to stay home due to medical concerns to come back to the classroom Monday, amid rising tensions with the Chicago Teachers Union over the reopening of in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
CTU has instructed teachers to remain remote to stay safe during the coronavirus, leading the union to tell the district it could not assure that staffing needs would be met on Monday, leaving students learning remotely once again. Students in pre-kindergarten, special education and K-8 students should now be returning to in-person learning on Tuesday, according to CBS Chicago.
“We expect all of our teachers who have not received a specific accommodation to come to school tomorrow,” Lightfoot said Sunday evening.
Jackson warned that teachers who do not report to buildings Monday “will have their access to Google Suite cut off at the end of the business day,” according to Chicago Tribune.
Union leaders have threatened to strike if teachers are locked out of Google Suite.
In response to a question about what she would tell the 70 percent of parents whose children are learning remotely about why their teachers are being locked out, Lightfoot said, “I think the question is … what do we tell those parents about the teachers who are refusing to show up to class? That’s really the question.”
The groups were set to resume bargaining at 11 a.m. Sunday, though Lightfoot said the district had waited all day for negotiations to begin, but CTU didn’t return to the table.
Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade clarified that their side never logged into Zoom for negotiations because they were waiting for CTU to review proposals: “It didn’t happen not because we refused to join, but because CTU was not ready.”
The district and the mayor had wanted schools to open Monday for as many as 67,000 students.
In an article published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, three doctors affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged schools nationwide to re-open, noting that “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
“Our schools are safe,” Lightfoot said. “We know that because we have studied what’s happened in other school systems in our city.”
In Chicago, Catholic and charter schools have been open for in-person instruction since the fall and the district has met or exceeded their safety standards, she said. She noted that Chicago Public Schools reopened January 11 to nearly 3,300 preschool and special education students as well.
The union is advocating for members with medically vulnerable relatives at home to receive accommodations for remote work and for teachers to only be required to return to in-person instruction upon receiving a vaccination. It is also pushing for increased testing of staff and students as well as a public health metric that would determine when schools should reopen or close.
Jackson accused the union of having “stood in the way” of a safe and sensible reopening.
“Tomorrow will be the fourth consecutive day where teachers have been directed to remain home, and that makes 15 days in the past year and a half where CTU leadership has disrupted student learning,” Jackson said. “No one should be OK with that.”