Chicago teachers on the brink of striking after mayor orders them to return to the classroom


Chicago teachers are on the brink of striking after Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered them to return to the classroom after failed negotiations on Sunday.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union and Chicago Public Schools have been at a standoff and failed to reach an agreement this weekend over how and when to reopen classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The teacher’s union had wanted to hold off returning to classrooms until all their members were vaccinated. But after talks fell apart, Chicago Public Schools announced that elementary and middle school teachers will be required to report to schools Monday. Teachers will be locked out of tools needed to work remotely and not paid if they don’t show up, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (pictured) has ordered teachers to return to classrooms on Monday

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (pictured) has ordered teachers to return to classrooms on Monday

Chicago Teacher's Union said it has voted to strike if teachers are locked out of remote learning tools. Pictured is the union's strike action from 2019

Chicago Teacher’s Union said it has voted to strike if teachers are locked out of remote learning tools. Pictured is the union’s strike action from 2019 

If teachers are locked out of the tools needed to work remotely then the union has already voted to strike, the outlet reported.

About 10,000 teachers and about one-third of the 67,000 students eligible to return to in-person learning were set to report on Monday after Chicago Public Schools.

In-person classes for thousands of elementary and middle school students have been postponed for at least a day amid the failed negotiations. 

Earlier this month, the Chicago Teachers Union instructed members to continue remote learning instead and said it wants teachers to return to the classroom when they have all been vaccinated, Fox News reported.

Lightfoot and Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have said essential workers who had to work in-person throughout the pandemic should be prioritized over teachers, according to the Sun-Times.

She also noted that the district’s plan to return to in-person learning had been approved by medical experts including Arwady.

The powerful union also wants medically vulnerable teachers and those who live with people with compromised health conditions to have the choice on whether to work remotely, according to the outlet.

The union also demands that the school district provide guidance on how schools would shut down in-person learning again if there is a spike in COVID-19 cases.

‘I know we can get a deal done. I’ve told my team, if it takes us staying up all night, let’s get it done,’ Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news conference on Sunday evening.

The Chicago Teacher's Union said it demands teachers return to classrooms when all have had the chance to be vaccinated. Pictured: CTU President Jesse Sharkey

The Chicago Teacher’s Union said it demands teachers return to classrooms when all have had the chance to be vaccinated. Pictured: CTU President Jesse Sharkey

Lightfoot has argued that essential workers who have worked in-person throughout the pandemic have a higher priority for the vaccine than teachers. Pictured is a Chicago teachers union protest from last week

Lightfoot has argued that essential workers who have worked in-person throughout the pandemic have a higher priority for the vaccine than teachers. Pictured is a Chicago teachers union protest from last week 

Janice Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said the union needed to ‘move past the debate on whether we should be reopening schools.’

‘Why should Chicago stand out when everybody else across the country has been able to safely do this? Why should CPS stand out when private and parochial schools in Chicago have been operating since the beginning of the school year?’ she said.

Bargaining between the district and the union had appeared productive at the start of the weekend when several verbal agreements turned into written ones, the Sun-Times reported.

But it has since appeared that the school district and the union can’t even agree on why negotiations have broken down.

The teachers union tweeted that its bargaining team was ‘instructed not to attend negotiations today unless our teachers, clinicians, PSRPs, nurses, librarians and other rank-and-file educators were prepared to make major concessions.’

However, Chicago Public School sent out its own ‘fact check’ tweet claiming the district’s bargaining team was told by the union’s leadership that they were unable to meet until they could develop a response to the district’s offer.

‘Our team has been standing by all day,’ the district tweeted.

Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teacher's Union went back and forth in tweets blaming each other for failed negotiations

Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teacher’s Union went back and forth in tweets blaming each other for failed negotiations

The union shot back in a thread of tweets that conversations with Lightfood had been ‘cordial’ but criticized the mayor for again ‘referring to the ‘hyper-democratic’ nature of CTU’ in a negative light.

‘The mayor and the CPS CEO refer to ‘CTU leadership’ often, but CTU leadership is the 28,000 rank-and-file teachers, PSRPs, clinicians, librarians, nurses, counselors and other educators. These are the people who run our union. We look to them for direction. That won’t change,’ the union tweeted.

The union noted that it has been able to reach agreements with its unionized charter schools and said ‘we want the same for our educators and students in Chicago Public Schools.’

‘Our members are prepared to keep working and negotiating. If there is a choice to end negotiations, cause a crisis, or cut off 80 percent of students in the city who have chosen remote learning, that choice won’t be ours,’ the union tweeted.

Preschoolers and some special education students in Chicago Public Schools had the option to return to in-person learning on January 11.

The district and the union have held more than 70 meetings since June, according to Chicago Public Schools.

Four key areas that the district and the union have reached tentative agreements on include health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing, and health and safety committees.



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