CPS’ latest reopening proposal receives mixed response from CTU

While some consider it “very reasonable,” other Chicago Teacher Union members believe agreeing to this proposal could put their lives and jobs in jeopardy.

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The latest proposal for reopening Chicago Public Schools received mixed responses among members of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The latest proposal for reopening Chicago Public Schools received mixed responses among members of the Chicago Teachers Union, including a sharp rebuke from some who believe agreeing to this proposal could put their lives and jobs in jeopardy.

CTU is currently reviewing the proposal, revealed Sunday, that accommodates many of the union’s requests. Under the plan, CPS would start letting students back into the classrooms as early as this week, and teachers and staff workers will have the opportunity to be “fully vaccinated” before returning.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey addressed a flood of questions union members raised about the pending reopening proposal on a Zoom call.

The questions — which touched on vaccine priority, safety and cleaning protocols, medical exemptions and even which Zip codes have the highest positivity rates — offered a window into teachers’ thinking as they prepared to advise union delegates that will vote on the possible deal.

Sharkey first noted that the timeline for staffers returning to schools after being vaccinated remains a key concern.

“Why are they trying to make people come back two weeks after the first vaccine dose and not two weeks after the second vaccine dose? It doesn’t make any sense,” Sharkey said, raising a question voiced by union members. “I agree. It doesn’t make any sense. And we argued that hard.”

Sharkey then claimed city officials “do not believe that schools spread COVID” and faulted federal and state officials for placing teachers in the 1B vaccination group.

“The reason that they’re not willing to allow teachers to be fully vaccinated before returning is because that would force them to delay reopening. And that is something that they are clearly not willing to do,” Sharkey said.

“The only thing that we’re going to do to actually get them to not open schools at this point is to not go in,” Sharkey said, leaving open the option to strike. “They cannot run schools without us.”

Asked about the disciplinary steps the district has already taken against teachers that have refused to return to the classroom, Sharkey said the school board has agreed to drop any disciplinary measures if a deal is struck.

Teachers also asked whether they would need to report to class if none of their students show up for in-person learning, Sharkey said. He noted that those teachers would be allowed to work remotely — unless they have to take on students from a class led by a teacher that has qualified for a medical accommodation that exempts them from classroom instruction.

In response to a question about the school board’s commitment to negotiate over reopening high schools, Sharkey said the work should start immediately to create “a model for how it can be less acrimonious, bitter [and] dysfunctional than what we just went through.”

Mark Mocarski, a physical education teacher at Westinghouse College Prep, said he feels the proposal is “something very reasonable for both sides.

“I’ve personally talked with many teachers in my circle that have the same opinion as me, ‘Yeah, let’s move forward. Let’s go on,’” Mocarski said. “The main thing was getting the vaccinations, getting a phase-reopening and then reviewing the [Americans with Disabilities Act] requests more thoroughly... I’m feeling pretty good about it. I think if it’s brought out to the members properly and they read through it thoroughly, they’ll be happy with it.”

But other CTU members said the proposal doesn’t protect the teachers who have been locked out of their classrooms from discipline or retaliation.

One teaching assistant at a South Side elementary school said the new proposal states that locked-out teachers won’t be tried on AWOL disciplinary charges, but it doesn’t say they won’t be disciplined for other write-ups tied to lockouts from their Google classrooms.

“We should all be given amnesty for that,” said the CTU member, who asked to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation. “If this just changes the way they can fire us, to me that really isn’t up for consideration.”

The teaching assistant said they decided to stay home rather than returning to the classroom last month because they have asthma, and all their students were continuing with remote learning.

“This is something many of us did because we fear for our own lives and so for us to walk back into the building and potentially face termination is unacceptable,” they said, adding that they’ve seen people at their school without masks.

The teaching assistant believes CTU needs to continue seeking a “vaccinated, voluntary return” to schools.

“I have a pretty good idea of what the sentiment is for a lot of groups of people and it’s not very positive for many of them,” they said. “We feel it does not protect us in terms of our safety, and it also doesn’t protect us in terms of our job, our pay, our benefits, disciplinary charges. Those things should be unacceptable.”

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