Chicago’s fight with teachers’ union extends to week two

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FILE – Chicago Teachers Union members and supporters organize a caravan protest in front of City Hall in the Loop on Jan. 5, 2022. Talks between Chicago school leaders and the teachers’ union resumed on Sunday January 9, 2022 amid a deadlock over distance learning and other COVID-19 safety measures. The situation looms at the start of a second week of school after three days of canceled classes in the third largest district of the country. (Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

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Chicago school leaders canceled class on a fourth day in the nation’s third largest district because negotiations with the teachers’ union over distance learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols failed. not come to an agreement over the weekend.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said Sunday evening in a joint statement that there had not been “sufficient progress” in talks to resume in-person classes on Monday, extending disruptions in a second school week. But they pledged that negotiations would continue “through the night.” “

The contentious issues included tests and measures to close schools. The Chicago Teachers Union is keen to have the option to revert to district-wide distance education, and most members have refused to teach in person until there is an agreement or the last. COVID-19 peak is easing. But Chicago leaders reject district-wide distance learning, saying it’s detrimental to students and schools are safe. Instead, Chicago chose to cancel classes as a whole two days after the students returned from winter vacation.

Chicago faces the same pandemic challenges as other districts across the country, with more reliance on distance learning as infections soar and staff are sidelined. But the situation in the union-friendly city of Chicago escalated during a labor dispute well known to mostly low-income black and Latino families in the neighborhood who experienced disruption in a similar fight. on the safety protocol last year, a strike in 2019 and a day off work in 2016.

The announcement for the district of about 350,000 students came after principals of some schools had already informed families that their schools would be closed for instruction on Monday due to understaffing.

The tone of Lightfoot and Martinez’s statement on Sunday night suggested more progress than a day earlier when shortly after the union made its latest offer public, they said: ‘The CTU leadership, you don’t. not listen ”and swore not to“ give in ”. She rejected the idea that teachers showed up to schools on Monday to distribute laptops for distance learning from Wednesday. Both sides have filed complaints with a state labor board .

Union leaders have accused Lightfoot of intimidation, saying they agree face-to-face education is better, but the pandemic is forcing tough decisions to be made. Attendance was down before cancellations due to students and teachers isolated from possible exposure to the virus and families choosing to keep children at home voluntarily.

“Educators are not the enemy Mayor Lightfoot wants them to be,” the union said in a statement Sunday, adding that the desire to be in the classroom “must be balanced by ensuring that these classrooms are safe, healthy and well-equipped, with the appropriate mitigation needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. ”

Union leaders did not have an immediate response after the district’s cancellation on Sunday evening.

There seemed to be some progress over the weekend towards a deal.

The district, which views the fight as an “illegal walkout,” said Saturday night it would allow more incentives for substitute teachers, provide KN95 masks to all teachers and students, and Illinois would provide about 350,000 antigen testing. But the two sides remained at odds on key issues, including COVID-19 measures that will lead to individual school closings and compensation. The district said it would not pay teachers who do not show up to schools, even if they try to connect to distance education systems. The union does not want its roughly 25,000 members to be sanctioned or lose their wages.

District leaders had said some schools, where enough staff had turned up, could offer education on Monday even without a deal; all buildings remained open for the collection of meals. However, only a handful of managers planned to have staff to open.

School leaders have touted a $ 100 million safety plan, which includes air purifiers in every classroom. In addition, around 91% of the staff are vaccinated and masks are mandatory indoors.

Since the start of the school year, some individual classes have temporarily switched to distance learning in the event of infection. But in rejecting a large-scale return to distance learning, city health officials argue that most students quarantined due to possible classroom exposure do not get COVID-19. The district is piloting a “test-to-stay” program to reduce isolation times.

The union says the measures are insufficient, especially given the omicron-fueled push that has shaken the return to work and classroom. He also criticized the district for not enrolling enough students in a testing program and an unreliable database of COVID-19 infections.

Several families in the district, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures last week, while more than 5,000 others signed a petition calling for a return to trial in anybody.

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Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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