The Chicago Teachers Union is reviewing a potential agreement with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to reopen schools for in-person learning and avert the city’s second teachers strike in 15 months.
Under the city’s latest proposal, which grants the union many of its requests, no teacher or staff member would be required to return to work before being offered a vaccine, and the reopening of schools would be pushed back to March for elementary and middle school students.
At a late morning news conference, an upbeat mayor said she was “tremendously pleased” to announce that at “long last” the two sides appeared to have a deal.
“We are here to announce the very good news that our children will be returning to in-person learning this week,” Lightfoot said, referring to preschool and special education students who would return on Thursday if the deal is approved. “This agreement was about making sure that everyone in our school communities just aren’t safe but also that they feel safe.”
CPS CEO Janice Jackson said she was “happy that we have a resolution and that we’re moving forward.”
The union tweeted Sunday morning, however, that “we do not yet have an agreement with Chicago Public Schools” until its representative governing body takes a vote.
“The mayor and her team made an offer to our members late last night, which merits further review. We will continue with our democratic process of rank-and-file review throughout the day before any agreement is reached.”
During a Zoom call later Sunday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey told members of the union that the proposal marks the “end of the road” in the lengthy bargaining process. Either members will vote to approve the deal or should prepare to potentially be “locked out” of virtual classrooms and get ready to strike, Sharkey said.
Stacy Davis Gates, the union’s vice president, added that a potential strike “wouldn’t be less than 15 days,” which is how long the 2019 teachers strike stretched on. In the case of a strike, Sharkey noted that the union could face “legal repercussions.”
“If the strike was declared illegal, people could not make up the pay and the board could levy fines against both individual teachers and the union,” he said during the call.
CTU’s House of Delegates was expected to meet later in the afternoon to lay out the city’s latest offer.
Those delegates will then be sent back to hold meetings with colleagues at their schools to gauge their feelings on the offer. The House of Delegates will convene a second time Monday to vote whether to turn the offer into a tentative agreement or send leaders back to the bargaining table.
New reopening schedule
At least 2,000 vaccine doses will be offered to preschool and special education cluster program staff this week, with their students scheduled to return to schools Thursday. Half of the doses will go to each group of workers.
Kindergarten through 5th grade staff would return Feb. 22 followed by their students March 1; 6th to 8th grade staff would go back March 1, and their students return March 8. High school students are also not currently scheduled to return in person.
The school board has also agreed to “drop discipline” and reinstate some teachers that have been locked out of the district’s e-learning system for weeks, Sharkey said Sunday.
Later this month, the city will begin vaccinating 1,500 CPS workers each week at sites specifically for CPS employees, Jackson said. Priority will be given to employees returning to work sooner, as well as those who are at higher risk due to age or demographics.
The city also conceded on the issue of accommodations for staff who asked to continue working from home because they live with a medically vulnerable household member. CPS will offer 1,000 vaccines to those workers this week and will require those who take a shot to return two weeks after their first dose.
The union appears to have compromised on its demand for a health metric that determines when schools would open or close. In a convoluted proposal, the city offered to pause in-person instruction for 14 days districtwide if the citywide test positivity rate is 10% or higher and the rate has increased for the previous seven consecutive days, each day at least one-fifth higher than the week before.
About 21,700 preschool through 8th grade staff members had been due to return to schools when they reopen, including more than 12,000 teachers. The families of up to 67,000 students had said they planned return to classrooms — most for two days a week, while preschoolers and some in special education would go back full time.
Another 123,000 students’ families have chosen to keep their children home to continue remote learning through the end of the third quarter in April.
Contributing: Fran Spielman