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Union warns background checks could bar some CPS teachers on first day of class

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson has said teachers whose background checks uncover areas of possible concern will be kept out of the classroom pending further review. | File photo

The Chicago Teachers Union warned Friday that snags in the weeks-long process of fingerprinting and performing background checks on thousands of Chicago Public Schools teachers could keep some out of the classroom Tuesday, the first day of school.

In June, CPS committed to conduct new background checks of every employee who comes in contact with children in response to a scandal over the district’s handling of sex abuse cases uncovered by the Chicago Tribune. At that time, a CPS spokesperson said the process would involve checks of 55,000 employees and cost $1.5 million to $2 million.

CTU has received “dozens” of calls this week from teachers who had been told they could not work the first day of school for reasons that were “questionable at best,” said union spokeswoman Chris Geovanis. In some cases, teachers were apparently barred for incidents for which they had previously been cleared or because they had not met unclear paperwork requirements, Geovanis said.


Some of those being kept out of the classroom, according to the CTU, were arrested for trespassing at a union protest in 2016 against Bank of America, though the charges were dismissed and they’ve been teaching ever since.

Another one of the arrested teachers, Alison Eichhorn, was cleared to return to school Tuesday after providing court documents about the disposition of her case. But Eichhorn said some of her fellow arrestees received notifications that they would need to provide documents only this week, leaving them scrambling to clear their names.

“It’s just a mess. In typical CPS style, they’re rushing to do something after they committed to get it done,” said Eichhorn, who teaches at Lindblom Math and Science Academy.

A CPS spokesperson said there has been ample time for employees to comply.

“Some of these claims that are being made by CTU leadership are just flat-out inaccurate and baseless. I haven’t received one single complaint from teachers about the process,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson told WGN Friday morning.

A CPS spokesperson said later Friday in an email, “employees had over a month to submit their fingerprints, and those who did not submit received multiple extensions and warnings about the consequences of choosing not to participate in this effort to keep students safe. Tens of thousands of our employees complied; a few did not, and we are working diligently to help them complete the process.”

CTU told its members late Friday afternoon that those awaiting clearance should not go to work Tuesday, but they will be paid for the day, per its communications with CPS. Jesse Sharkey, CTU’s acting president, told members he spoke Friday to Jackson about the union’s concerns as well.

Union spokeswoman Geovanis said the problem could have been avoided if CPS had worked with CTU to prepare for last-minute problems.

“We’re pushing on barely three hours, in terms of business days, before the school year starts,” Geovanis said Friday afternoon. “These are folks who were fingerprinted as early as June, one of them, last January, to start as a CPS employee and an educator this fall, and CPS still hasn’t gone through their background checks.

“Our job as educators is to protect and educate students, not to expose them to potential harm. So it’s not a question that we disagree with the fundamental principle here. We are really concerned with the way this process rolled out,” she said.

A representative of Service Employees International Union Local 73 said Friday she had not heard of similar problems stemming from checks of the local’s approximately 7,000 members employed by CPS.

About 100 Local 73 employees who did not get fingerprinted by CPS’s deadline will be sent to pre-disciplinary hearings where they will be able to get fingerprinted before they can start the school year, said Science Meles, SEIU 73’s CPS division director.