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For kids’ sake, end the recurring labor strife in Chicago schools

Students and parents deserve better than another future circus of bitterness, misinformation, media posturing, finger-pointing and, as happened this time around, personal insults. Chicago deserves better too.

A staff member enters Blaine Elementary School in Lake View on Jan. 11, after CTU delegates voted to end their work stoppage.
A staff member enters Blaine Elementary School in Lake View on Jan. 11, after CTU delegates voted to end their work stoppage.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

On Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools students will be back in the classroom, exactly where they should have been since this time last week.

Finally, families, students and, yes, teachers, can turn the page and get back to the vital business of public education after a five-day battle over COVID-19 safety protocols. Kudos to the teachers’ union delegates who decided enough was enough, especially without any pay, and voted 389 to 226 to go back to work after what was, for all intents and purposes, a strike.

“I’m just glad to be back,” as one teacher told the Sun-Times early Tuesday as she arrived for work at Blaine Elementary in Lake View.

Students and parents deserve better than this recurring circus between CTU and City Hall, of bitterness, misinformation, media posturing, finger-pointing and this time, personal insults. Chicago deserves better, too. The future of public schools is truly at stake.

The delegates’ vote should pave the way for the union’s 25,000 members to quickly approve the agreement when they vote on it later this week.

Looking ahead, here’s some of what schools will get: COVID testing for at least 10% of students, under a continuation of the current “opt-in” policy. And CTU and CPS committed to work together — a good sign — to increase student testing and vaccination to 100% by Feb. 1, including by using phone banks where staff will help call parents.

That’s a goal well worth pushing for, given that the majority of CPS students remain unvaccinated. Any effort to increase vaccination rates, especially in Black and Latino communities that continue to lag behind the citywide average, deserves strong support. And while they’re making those calls, unvaccinated parents should be urged to get their shots, too.

CPS also compromised with the union on thresholds for shutting down schools when COVID outbreaks occur and teacher and student absences rise. But CPS wouldn’t agree to reinstate a threshold for district-wide school closures in the event of a major COVID surge, and didn’t agree to an opt-out testing program for students, though opt-out programs are common in other districts. Those were two of the union’s major demands.

A third demand CPS rightly turned down: Delaying the return to schools until Jan. 18.

In the end, though, this shouldn’t be about which side won, lost, or played the political power game more skillfully.

The end game is to get kids safely back in school. For now, it’s mission accomplished.

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