Chicago Teachers Union OKs plans to resume personal tutoring

CHICAGO – Chicago schools are ready to resume teaching this week after Chicago Teachers Union leaders approved a district plan late Monday on distance learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols.

Both sides had been locked in an increasingly ugly battle that canceled classes for four days in the country’s third-largest school district. The agreement, which would have students in the class on Wednesday and teachers a day earlier, still requires the approval of the union’s full 25,000 members, according to the union.

None of the pages immediately revealed further details Monday night. Problems on the table have been measurements to close schools in the midst of outbreaks and extended COVID-19 testing.

“We know this has been very difficult for students and families,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at an evening news conference. “No one wins when the students are out.”

The Chicago Teachers Union voted Monday night to suspend their work from last week, calling for online learning until a safety plan has been negotiated or the latest COVID-19 increase subsides. The district, which has rejected district-wide distance education, responded by locking teachers out of distance education systems and soldering salaries.

The negotiations over the weekend failed to create an agreement, and the rhetoric about negotiations became increasingly sharper. Some principals canceled classes on Tuesday preventively and warned of further closures.

Earlier Monday, union president Jesse Sharkey said the union and the district remained “separated on a number of key functions” that teachers want before returning to classrooms. He also accused Lightfoot of refusing to compromise on teachers’ top priorities.

“The mayor is relentless, but she’s relentlessly stupid, she’s relentlessly stubborn,” Sharkey said, playing on a reference made by the former mayor to refuse to “give in” in the negotiations. “She relentlessly refuses to seek housing, and we’re trying to find a way to get people back to school.”

Lightfoot accused teachers of “abandoning” students by refusing to teach in person. She also shot back at the union president.

“If I had a dollar for every time a privileged, strong white guy called me stupid, I would be a basillionaire,” Lightfoot, who is Black, told WLS-TV.

In the evening, she had said she was optimistic about the latest proposal, which went to a vote among union leaders.

Chicago shares pandemic concerns with other districts nationwide, with more returning to distance learning as infections increase and staff are put on the sidelines. But the situation in union-friendly Chicago has intensified in a labor dispute familiar to families in the mostly low-income Black and Latino district, which experienced disruption during a similar security protocol fight last year, a strike in 2019 and a one-day work stop in 2016 .

The union wanted the opportunity to return to distance learning in the roughly 350,000 student district, and most members had refused to teach in person until an agreement, or the recent COVID-19 increase, subsides. But Chicago leaders reject distance learning across the district, saying it is detrimental to students and that schools are safe. Instead, Chicago chose to cancel classes only two days after students returned from winter vacation.

Parents and advocacy groups on Monday stepped up calls for faster action in the dispute, with both sides already filing complaints to a state labor board.

A group of parents on the west side of the city – near the intersection of mainly black and Latino neighborhoods – demanded that students return to class immediately.

Cheri Warner, mother of 15-year-old twins, said the sudden loss of personal learning has taken a heavy toll on her family.

One of her daughters has depression and anxiety, and winter is always severe. Losing contact with his friends and teachers increases that burden, Warner said.

The girls “missed their entire year in eighth grade, and it felt like they weren’t really prepared for high school,” Warner said. “They’re all trying to figure out how to catch up, and it’s a really stressful situation.”

Other parents said the district needs to do more

Angela Spencer, an organizer at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and a nurse, said she is concerned about the safety of her two children in schools. Spencer, who said she works as a nurse, said her children’s schools were not adequately cleaned before the pandemic and she has “no confidence” in district records now.

At the same time, seven families, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures, while more than 5,000 others have signed a petition calling for a return to personal instruction.

District officials, who call the union action “an illegal stop”, have kept buildings open for students’ meals and said schools with enough staff can open their doors to students. Some teachers have appeared; district officials estimated that about 15% of teachers did so on Friday.

On Monday, three schools, including Mount Greenwood Elementary, were able to open, according to district officials. Parents at the largely white school on the southwest side of the city expressed relief.

City officials claimed schools are secure with protocols in place. School leaders have announced a $ 100 million security plan, including air purifiers in every classroom. Approximately 91% of staff are vaccinated and masks are required indoors.

Union officials have claimed that security measures are lacking in record-breaking COVID-19 cases and that the district has failed testing and a database that tracks infections.

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