CHICAGO (AP) – Chicago school principals canceled classes in the country’s third largest district on a fourth day after negotiations with the teachers’ union over distance learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols failed to reach an agreement over the weekend.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a joint statement on Sunday evening that talks had not made “sufficient progress” to resume face-to-face classes on Monday and extend the breaks to a second week of school . But they vowed that negotiations would continue “through the night”.
Some of the controversial issues included tests and metrics about school closings. The Chicago Teachers Union would like the option to revert to district-wide distance learning and most members have refused to teach in person until an agreement is reached or the recent COVID-19 spike has subsided. But Chicago leaders are opposed to district-wide distance learning, saying it is harmful to students and schools are safe. Instead, Chicago decided to cancel classes altogether two days after the students returned from the winter break.
Chicago is facing the same pandemic problems as other counties across the country, with more reliance on distance learning as infections skyrocket and employees marginalized. But the situation in union-friendly Chicago has been exacerbated by a labor dispute known to families in the mostly low-income Black and Latino district who suffered disruptions over the past year over a similar security protocol battle, a 2019 strike, and a day’s work Standstill in 2016.
The announcement for the district with around 350,000 students came when the school administrators of some schools had already told families that their schools would be closed for classes on Monday due to a lack of staff.
The tone in the Lightfoot and Martinez statement on Sunday evening suggested more progress than the day before, when the union said, “CTU leadership, you are not listening” and vowing not to “give in” shortly after the publication of its latest offer . The offer she turned down included teachers reporting to schools on Monday to hand out laptops for distance learning, which is slated to begin temporarily on Wednesday. Both sides have filed complaints with a state employment agency.
Union leaders have accused Lightfoot of bullying and stated that they agree that face-to-face training is better, but the pandemic is forcing tough choices. The attendance declined before the cancellation of students and teachers who were isolated from possible exposure to the virus and families who chose to voluntarily keep children at home.
“Teachers are not the enemy Mayor Lightfoot wants them to be,” the union said in a statement on Sunday, adding that the desire to be in the classroom needs to be balanced by making sure these classrooms are safe, healthy and well equipped are adequate containment necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. ”
Union leaders did not have an immediate response following the district’s cancellation on Sunday evening.
There seemed to be some progress towards an agreement over the weekend.
The district, viewing the fight as an “illegal work stoppage,” said late Saturday it would provide more incentives for substitute teachers, provide KN95 masks for all teachers and students, and Illinois provide about 350,000 antigen tests. However, both sides disagreed on key issues, including COVID-19 metrics that will result in individual school closings and compensations. The district said teachers who fail to report to schools are not paid even if they try to log into distance learning systems. The union does not want any of its 25,000 or so members to be disciplined or lose their wages.
District leaders had said that some schools with enough staff may have classes on Mondays without an agreement; All buildings have remained open for food collection. However, only a handful of school principals expected staff to be opened.
School principals have announced a $ 100 million safety plan to include air purifiers in every classroom. In addition, around 91% of employees are vaccinated and it is mandatory to wear a mask indoors.
Since the beginning of the academic year, individual classrooms have been temporarily switched to distance learning in the event of infections. However, in refusing a full return to distance learning, city health officials argue that most students quarantined due to possible classroom exposure will not get COVID-19. The district is testing a test-to-stay program to reduce isolation times.
The union argues that the measures are inadequate, especially given the omicron-fueled surge that has turned returns to work and class on its head. It has also criticized the district for not enrolling enough students for a testing program and an unreliable database of COVID-19 infections.
Several district families, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closings last week, while more than 5,000 others signed a petition urging a return to face-to-face tuition.
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