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We won’t reopen teachers contract for Chicago Public Schools to start on time this fall, Lightfoot says

“First and foremost, we’ll be guided by what the public health data tells us. And hopefully, we’ll have a constructive conversation with CTU leadership,” the mayor said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot visits a second grade class at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the Southwest Side on the first day back to class after a Chicago Teachers Union strike closed schools for 11 days, on Nov. 1, 2019.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot visits a second grade class at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the Southwest Side on the first day back to class after a Chicago Teachers Union strike closed schools for 11 days, on Nov. 1, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she’s not about to reopen the teachers contract that ended an eleven-day strike last fall to pave the way for the on-time start of Chicago Public Schools this fall.

“That’s not gonna happen. … We’re not gonna reopen the bargaining agreement,” the mayor said.

Lightfoot reiterated her determination to reopen schools “in a way that keeps the entire school community safe” — perhaps using staggered schedules to limit the number of students in classrooms at any given time.

“There’ll be plenty of time for discussion but, first and foremost, we’ll be guided by what the public health data tells us. And hopefully, we’ll have a constructive conversation with CTU leadership,” the mayor said.

In response, CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said the union is not demanding that the hard-fought contract be reopened. The CTU is simply emphasizing that the Illinois State Board of Education has said districts and unions must come up with new agreements on dealing with work-related issues triggered by COVID-19 — which Davis Gates referred to as “impact bargaining.

“COVID-19 has impacted our workspaces. It has impacted how we do school. … You cannot social distance in a modular trailer. You cannot social distance in a classroom of 40,” she said.

“We’re gonna have to talk about what staggering looks like,” she said. “We’re gonna have to talk about what block scheduling might look like.”

And she said the district needs to require more of Aramark, which is responsible for keeping schools clean but which has come under fire in the past.

“The contract the school district has with Aramark was insufficient before. Now, it’s dangerous. We’re gonna need increased cleaning before, during and after and during school. They’re gonna have to staff up and get more cleaning supplies and cancel the contract with Aramark.”

Davis Gates pointed to the chaos that occurs in high school hallways during passing periods, in the cafeteria during lunch periods and outside school buildings when the final bell rings.

“Everything about school is a congregate setting. So we are gonna be forced into a situation with the school district to create a plan that prioritizes safety and learning for our school communities,” Davis Gates said.

Last week, Lightfoot told the Sun-Times she is determined to reopen CPS on time this fall because “students need their teachers.”

She said there were “lots of different options on the table,” including “having alternate days, kind of a platoon circumstance, really limiting the number of kids that are in a classroom at any given time.”

CTU President Jesse Sharkey responded by saying he was “flabbergasted” that Lightfoot had not consulted teachers before making her comments.

On Monday, Davis Gates accused the mayor of not understanding “what impact bargaining means.” She blamed lingering bitterness from the strike for Lightfoot’s reaction to the union’s new demands.

“She’s still sore about that contract, bless her heart. But we’ve moved on. This moment requires us all to be adults and get over ourselves,” she said.