CPS cancels in-person learning Thursday as impasse with CTU continues

The move came after the district and union failed to make enough progress at the bargaining table Wednesday.

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A teacher wipes a table during a class at Jordan Community Elementary School in Rogers Park on Jan. 15, 2021. The school had restarted some in-person classes earlier this month.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools has canceled another day of in-person classes for preschool and special education students as it continues to negotiate over reopening all elementary schools with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The district told families in an email sent Wednesday night not to send their children to schools Thursday.

“Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership continues to direct their members who support pre-k and cluster programs to remain at home,” the email said. “Therefore, we must ask parents to continue keeping your children home as we are unable to guarantee adequate staffing levels to cover in-person learning.”

Instead, remote learning will continue at both the schools that had reopened earlier this month as well as the rest of the K-8 schools that are slated to open Monday.

Members of the CTU refused to report to schools this week, as ordered by the district. Instead of locking them out or docking their pay, the district delayed the required return date while the two sides meet at the bargaining table. The union has threatened to have all teachers go on strike — including those at high schools and others that aren’t required to report in person — if the district won’t allow all of its members to work remotely.

“We are doing everything in our power to reach a deal that satisfies the union’s priorities and allows you to choose the instructional model that meets the needs of your children,” the district’s email said. “We regret any distress this situation has caused, especially for children who have been learning happily and safely in their classrooms for the past few weeks. CPS remains fully committed to reaching an agreement that will allow our students in pre-k and cluster programs, as well as all of our elementary school students who chose to come back to school.”

Earlier Wednesday, a group of Chicago Public Schools parents on Wednesday urged the district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to abandon the controversial reopening plan and stick to remote learning.

“We want them to listen to the parents,” said Bridgett White, one of about a dozen CPS parents who spoke during a virtual news conference. “The majority of CPS parents are not comfortable with sending their children back in person. They don’t trust the plan for keeping their children safe. Even the Board [of Education] meeting that is going to be held later today is going to be virtual. So why can’t our children continue to do such?”

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Not all parents of CPS students oppose reopening schools. Last week, in a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times, a group of 11 parents at Coonley Elementary on the North Side — all of them doctors — advocated for the reopening of schools, while acknowledging “there will be anxiety and things will not be perfect out of the gate.” The doctors said the data suggests “the rate of [coronavirus] cases and the rate of spread in school will be no higher that in the general population ... .”

Lee Sustar, who has a son at Lane Tech College Prep High School, said Wednesday that remote learning is “extremely difficult.”

“But there is something worse, and that’s getting sick or severely ill — or even death,” Sustar said. He said his son was “presumed positive” for the coronavirus last year at a time when testing wasn’t widely available.

“It was a long and harrowing ordeal that required a follow-up with a cardiologist,” he said. “So please don’t let anyone tell you that this is not a serious risk for children and teens.”

Julie Dworkin, a parent of a seventh grader and a high school sophomore, agreed that remote learning is “far from ideal.”

“But we’ve made it this far, and now we have a vaccine that’s rolling out,” Dworkin said. “A couple more months of remote learning isn’t going to harm anyone irreparably.”

Dworkin said she initially responded to a CPS survey by saying she planned to enroll her kids for in-person learning. She changed her mind but said she’s annoyed CPS is using her initial response to tout the popularity of its reopening plan.

“CPS should be more concerned about the 81% of students who won’t be returning and should be focused on making remote learning as good as possible, instead of locking out teachers,” she said.

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