High school teachers stay home as CPS, CTU work on reopening plan

CPS plans to have high schoolers return to classrooms Monday.

SHARE High school teachers stay home as CPS, CTU work on reopening plan
After a teachers strike that lasted more than two weeks, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey delivers a statement in front of Richard Yates Elementary School in Humboldt Park on the first day back to school, Friday morning, Nov. 1, 2019.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Staff at public high schools across the city stayed home Wednesday, protesting Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plan.

Even so, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said that a “fairly limited set of issues” remain and he described bargaining between the union and administration as “fairly productive.” Negotiations continued into Wednesday evening, and it wasn’t yet clear whether teachers would work from home again Thursday or return to schools.

Sharkey later clarified his remarks while talking to reporters on an online news conference, saying, “There has been progress, but not adequate.”

He added: “It’s our feeling CTU is making very reasonable demands.”

CPS plans to have high schoolers return to classrooms Monday, although teachers and other staff were told to return this past Monday to prepare for the reopening. Many teachers were scheduled to work remotely Wednesday despite the action.

Key unresolved issues for the CTU include scheduling so that high schools, particularly those with larger populations, are less crowded during the day, as well as allowing for tele-working for staff who have family members vulnerable to COVID-19. The union also wants the city to make vaccines available to returning high school students.

Eden McCauslin, a teacher at Taft high School, said during the news conference that her school got a preview Tuesday of what the reopening might look like. Some 900 kids were at Taft taking SAT exams, she said.

“Trying to get the kids in through the building in a timely and orderly fashion was incredibly stressful,” McCauslin said. “Logistically, we had maybe three to four doors open trying to get the kids in, and it took a lot of time — a lot of energy.”

Taft is expecting about 2,000 students — between the school’s two campuses — to return to school Monday, McCauslin said.

“A lot of staff members have concerns about this particular model and is it the safest for our school?” McCauslin said.

Sharkey said CTU members met late Tuesday night.

“Just 10 minutes before we got on the call with our members, we got a proposal [from CPS] that was quite responsive with one of our areas of concern,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey said the union had responded to that proposal but had not heard back from CPS by late last night.

“Hopefully the [Chicago Board of Education] responds this morning, we can pull our membership in and get a fair settlement,” Sharkey said. “But if there is no response forthcoming and the if board takes unreasonable positions, then we will have to continue to go down this path.”

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