Move forward with reopening schools come January

The Chicago Teachers Union has tried twice before the state labor board as it sought to stop a reopening. CTU insists that the reopening plan is unsafe, but where’s the science to back that up?

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An empty classroom at Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice in Englewood.

An empty classroom at Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice in Englewood. A labor board must make swift progress toward ending the CPS-CTU dispute on school reopening, the editorial board writes.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union has tried twice to stop Chicago Public Schools from reopening in January — and has lost both times.

The latest failure came on Thursday, when the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board denied the union’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt the Jan. 4 return date for preschoolers and some special education students and staff. The union had accused CPS of violating labor law by refusing to negotiate in good faith over a safe reopening.

The loss is a huge blow to the CTU, which has been at a toxic stalemate with CPS for months over bringing students back to the classroom, even for hybrid learning that would have children in schools only part time.

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But the decision comes as good news, in our view, to the families of 77,000 students who have opted to return to in-person instruction. Remote learning, it seems, is simply not cutting it for these children’s educational and social well-being.

Those families know the pandemic is still with us. Some of them surely still have qualms about sending their children back to class. But they see their children losing out with online learning, and the district has an obligation to reopen schools as safely and smoothly as possible.

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The sticking point, with CPS and CTU, is what constitutes “safe.”

The teachers union wants to bargain over safety with CPS and recently issued a list of demands it wants to include in bargaining, such as COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

But to put it bluntly, you can’t bargain over science.

What’s safe when it comes to fighting this virus is a matter for public health and infectious disease experts — not CTU or CPS — to decide.

In this case, though, CPS has science on its side. CTU does not.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has given the green light to the district’s reopening plan, which her team helped develop.

The CTU has spent weeks insisting that CPS’ reopening plan is unsafe. If so, where’s the expert who can back that up?

CTU can make any number of claims about positivity rates, case numbers and protocols that need to be in place, but those claims strike us as little more than distracting noise without hard science and trained expertise to support them.

The union has lost twice now.

Time to move forward on a safe reopening next month.

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