CHICAGO (WLS) — Chicago Public Schools planned to welcome back the first phase of educators Monday morning, but will likely be doing so without the support of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Some CPS staff will be back in classrooms Monday as part of the district’s plan to ease back into in-person learning amid the pandemic.
Educators from half a dozen pre-K, special education cluster and elementary schools are slated to hold a virtual press conference at 6:30 a.m. to “lay out why they and their fellow educators are rejecting returning to in-person work on Monday,” according to a CTU statement.
“Our ‘ask’ and our demands have fallen on deaf ears,” said CTU member and CPS parent, Lori Torres.
RELATED: Chicago Public Schools reopening in-person learning starting in January, school district announces
CPS released details and a schedule last month stating the first group of staff for pre-K and cluster programs would return on Jan. 4. Students enrolled in pre-K and moderate and intensive cluster programs are slated to resume in-person learning on Jan. 11.
Staff returns for grades K-8 on Jan. 25, and in-person learning with a hybrid model for students in grades K-8 resumes on Feb 1.
However, the CTU has pushed back against the re-opening plan, citing that they do not believe CPS has done enough to make schools safe. Among their top concerns is that there isn’t proper ventilation.
The teachers union said it is concerned that returning students to the classroom at this point in the pandemic, when widespread vaccinations are not available, could lead to another surge in the pandemic.
“As a CTU member and a parent I know that my union has done what it can to fight for those of us who want to do the best we can for our students,” Torres said.
While both sides agree the goal is to best serve the students safety, they can’t yet find a plan they both can agree on.
CTU announced Sunday its members plan to defy the district’s orders and continue remote learning until all school buildings are “safe for students and staff.”
“Our buildings are not safe, they weren’t safe in normal times. We don’t trust them to be safe during a pandemic,” Torres said.
In addition, the union’s demands prior to the pandemic for better resources, including dedicated school nurses and social workers and counselors, have still not been met.
“We’re not staffed at levels that make sense, especially not to return to buildings in a pandemic,” Torres added.
CPS and the city continue to assure the public that the efforts they have taken since planning in March, coupled with city health guidelines, gives them confidence students and staff can return safely.
CPS issued a statement in response to the union that read:
“The overwhelming scientific evidence, expert guidance and experiences of school districts across Illinois are clear: schools can safely reopen with a comprehensive plan in place. The CTU has not identified any area where the district’s plan falls short of public health guidelines and the CTU’s last-minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning. It is the district’s expectation that teachers without an accommodation report to work tomorrow, just as principals, custodial staff, engineers, and food service staff have throughout the entirety of the pandemic.”
The district claims the return to in-person learning will help alleviate the educational disparities seen in the city’s Black and brown communities.
“If you want to talk about equity, let’s talk about staffing our buildings appropriately,” Torres said. “Let’s talk about meeting the needs of kids where they are and not creating an expectation that is unrealistic.”
CTU is also getting the support of 33 Aldermen who penned a letter to the district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, urging both sides to come up with a collective transparent plan.
“We need to spend a lot more time doing in the coming days and weeks, is improving that reopening plan so that it builds more confidence, it builds more trust and CPS and the families and teacher that servicing,” said Alderman Matt Martin, 47th Ward. “We need to make sure we are addressing public safety concerns, public health concerns specifically in ways so that people can understand, but also situating it within this equity framework because if we’re just having a small portion of our CPS population comfortable within in-person learning there’s a lot more work to.”
CPS did issue a response back to the Aldermen address on each point of concern from safety protocols to the communication with the union.
“While there was uncertainty about the safety of schools when we knew far less about COVID-19, these positive health outcomes are no longer a surprise. Data from schools throughout Illinois, across the country and around the world confirm what is now the scientific consensus: schools are safe when proper mitigations are followed,” the response said in part.
Last month, a group of 17 Chicago area doctors signed an open letter in support of the district’s plan, saying in part, “The educational, psychological and financial hardships of remote learning have had serious consequences for our children and their families,” and added that, “in-school spread of COVID-19 is rare when proper precautions are taken.”
RELATED: CPS, CTU continue to clash over return to classroom plan
The school district said 83.3% of all employees are expected to return on Jan. 4 for in-person learning. Leave or accommodation to remain remote was granted for 12.35 of CPS employees. Additionally, 4.4% of requests for leave or accommodations to remain remote are still pending.
CPS said that every person with an American with Disabilities Act accommodation, which applied to any employee with an underlying health condition listed on the CDC’s website, was granted an accommodation to work from home. A total of 18.7% of employees who live with someone who has a serious medical condition were given accommodations to work from home, and 11.5% of those requesting to remain at home due to childcare accommodations had their requests granted.
The school district also said any staff member who shares a home with someone with a high-risk medical condition but was not given an accommodation to work from home will be able to get a weekly COVID-19 test.
Additionally, all school staff returning in-person will be given monthly COVID-19 tests as part of the district’s testing program.
RELATED: CPS expects 37 percent of eligible students to attend in-person class; data show they’re disproportionately white
The district only expects about 37% of eligible students to return to in-person classes, officials said earlier in December.
CPS data shows a disproportionate number of students expected to return are white. About 23% are white, 30% are Black, nearly 39% are Latino and about 4% are Asian. Overall student enrollment in the district is nearly 11% white, about 36% Black, nearly 47% Latino and about 4% Asian, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Schools CEO Janice Jackson said about 77,000 of the roughly 208,000 eligible students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade and in special education planned to return. A date for high school students hasn’t been set.
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