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CTU members vote to work remotely starting Wednesday if high school reopening agreement isn’t reached

The Chicago Teachers Union is putting pressure on Chicago Public Schools to finalize a high school reopening agreement early this week.

Thousands of high school students are expected to return to the classroom next week for the first time in over a year.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file photo

With thousands of high school students expected to return to the classroom next week for the first time in over a year, the Chicago Teachers Union is putting pressure on Chicago Public Schools to finalize a reopening agreement early this week.

CTU members Sunday voted for high school teachers and staff to work remotely, starting Wednesday, if a reopening deal with Chicago Public Schools isn’t reached by then, the union said in a statement.

CPS officials have directed 5,350 high school teachers to return to buildings Monday with or without an agreement in preparation for about 26,000 students in grades 9-12 to resume in-person learning next week.

Teachers and staff are planning to honor that request and report in-person Monday and Tuesday while CPS and CTU officials work to solidify a final high school reopening agreement, sources said. That means that staff will be present when juniors at some high schools are scheduled to take the SAT in person Tuesday.

But if a deal isn’t struck or there isn’t “adequate movement at the table” by Wednesday, high school teachers and staff will begin to work remotely, the union said.

There are still several unresolved matters the union is working to settle as the city once again sees an uptick in coronavirus cases. The four main issues at the center of the negotiations have been student schedules, remote work for staff whose students aren’t in-person, work-from-home accommodations and addressing increasing virus transmission along with vaccination for students and families.

Another big concern surrounds large schools that have huge numbers of students planning to go back.

CTU has also accused CPS of having delayed responses to accommodation requests for educators with life-threatening illnesses, acute child-care issues or medically vulnerable family members, saying: “Those members are being pushed to come back into buildings, even if it means putting their health on the line.”

Both parties met at the bargaining table over the weekend and had “productive discussions,” according to CPS spokesperson Michael Passman said. There’s a “general alignment” on numerous topics, including the scheduling models schools will use and safety protocols, Passman said.

“We hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition for our high school students and families,” Passman said in a statement.

CPS has said the plan is for most high schools to have their in-person students in schools twice a week, with half attending Monday and Tuesday while the other group goes Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, smaller schools and those where few students opted to return are expected to have students in-person four days per week.

CPS officials have set a target start date of April 19 for high school students. Passman reiterated that’s still the plan, adding that district officials “are firmly committed to making that happen.”

CPS and CTU officials will reconvene for negotiations Monday morning.