Chicago teachers vote on job action, claim schools not ready to reopen

Brendan O'Brien
·3-min read
People wearing protective face masks walk, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois

By Brendan O'Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago teachers will vote on Saturday on a resolution to not return to classrooms next week, claiming the third largest school system in the United States lacks an adequate plan to safely re-open schools amid the pandemic.

The results of the vote, expected on Sunday, could jeopardize Chicago Public Schools' phased reopening as the district plans to offer in-person instruction for 70,000 elementary and middle school students.

Some 10,000 educators are scheduled to report to work at their schools on Monday to prepare for those classes. On Friday, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson said if those educators do not show up for work, it would constitute an illegal strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.

"We are continuing to meet every day with CTU leadership — just as we have more than 60 times in the past several months — and we are optimistic that an agreement is within reach," she said in a letter to parents Friday evening.

Jackson said public health officials agree schools can reopen safely with mitigation strategies in place. She added the district has invested $100 million and "countless hours of planning" to ensure our school communities are safe.

The vast majority of the Chicago's teachers have been teaching the system's 355,000 students remotely since last spring when the spread of the virus forced the district to close schools.

Since then, the Chicago Teachers Union has insisted that the Chicago schools lack proper ventilation, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment to re-open.

It has also claimed CPS does not have adequate safety protocols in place while urging the district to "move swiftly' to vaccinate teachers, who are expected to begin to get shots in mid-February.

"Our commitment remains the same: to protect lives as we work to land an enforceable agreement to safely return to our school buildings," the union said in a statement on Friday.

Public school teachers across the nation have voiced similar concerns, urging their districts not to reopen until they have more thorough plans to protect them and students from the virus.

The possible work action in Chicago comes 15 months after the city's teachers went on strike for 11 days during a bitter labor dispute over overcrowded classrooms and support staff levels and pay.

"The rhetoric, the walkouts, the fighting. These are having a devastating effect on families across this city," a group of parents on the city's north side wrote in a letter to the district and union, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Earlier this month, CPS began implementing it's re-opening plan, allowing for 6,500 pre-kindergarten and special education students to attend in-person class.

A third of the 3,800 teachers and paraprofessionals initially did not show up for work. As of Jan. 15, 87 of those educators remained locked out of their virtual classrooms for failing to report, according to the district.

The next step in the district's reopening plan comes on Feb. 1, when some 70,000 elementary and middle school students are scheduled back in classrooms after they opted to take some of their classes in-person and the reminder online.

The district has yet to announce when high school students will have the option to return to school buildings.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; editing by Diane Craft)