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Chicago Public Schools Says Teachers Union ‘Refuses to Even Discuss’ Returning to In-Person Classes

(Mike Blake/Reuters)

Chicago Public Schools on Friday pushed back against the Chicago Teachers Union, which filed an unfair labor practice charge last week accusing the city’s school district of illegally refusing to negotiate with the union on how to safely resume in-person classes amid health concerns.

The union has “refused to even discuss” returning to in-person classes, school district spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement.

“We are disheartened that CTU continues to obstruct and mislead the public about the necessary planning measures needed to prepare for a potential return to safe in-person learning,” Bolton said. “While the district is doing everything in its power to plan for all possible scenarios, the CTU refuses to even discuss a return to in-person learning, even as hundreds of private schools in Chicago are open.”

Chicago’s public schools are scheduled to start in-person classes in phases for pre-K students and some special education students during the school year’s second quarter, which begins in two weeks on November 9.

“We don’t know what the health situation will be in a couple of weeks’ time, but it would be irresponsible not to plan ahead while thousands of students miss out on valuable learning,” Bolton added.

However, CTU has accused the city’s public school district of violating the union’s collective bargaining agreement by neglecting to negotiate the start of in-person learning.

“We all want to return to our students. We don’t want to die doing our jobs, and we don’t want to be vectors for spreading illness or death to our students and their families,” CTU vice president Stacy Davis Gates said in a statement. “Yet the mayor and CPS simply refuse to lay out and discuss their plan for returning to classrooms, when we know from their own facilities records that these buildings aren’t safe.”

The union has demanded that its certified industrial hygienists be allowed to inspect school air quality in the district’s buildings. CPS meanwhile has said it has hired state-certified environmental hygienists to perform inspections, the results of which the district says it will release to the public before schools are opened. The district argued that CTU does not have any legal or contractual right to demand its own inspection.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have increased in the Chicago area, the city’s positivity rate ticking up to 7.5 percent over the last week.

Last week, Chicago ordered all non-essential businesses to close at 10 p.m., and more restrictions could be set in motion if cases of the virus continue to rise.

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