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CPS, CTU reach tentative agreement to reopen high schools; union members to vote

“There’s definitely progress being made. It’s a whole different world when both sides are listening to each other,” a member of the CTU’s bargaining team said.

Liz Winfield, an art and yearbook teacher at Benito Juarez High School, joins other Chicago Teachers Union educators Thursday morning to teach remotely outside the Southwest Side school.
Liz Winfield, an art and yearbook teacher at Benito Juarez High School, joins other Chicago Teachers Union educators Thursday morning to teach remotely outside the Southwest Side school.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union have landed a tentative agreement to reopen high schools, setting the stage for thousands of teenage students to return to classrooms Monday for the first time in more than a year.

The deal will still need to be approved by the union’s 25,000 teachers and staff. The CTU’s House of Delegates convened Thursday afternoon to review the terms of the agreement and voted with 83% of delegates in favor of holding a ratification vote by the full membership this weekend. The 600-member governing body also officially ended the two-day labor action that saw high school teachers working remotely instead of in their schools as ordered by the district.

A CTU committee of rank-and-file teachers and staff who have been involved in bargaining unanimously recommended approval of the agreement, the union said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson called the reopening deal “a critical milestone for our families and it’s a tremendous step forward for the academic and social-emotional well-being of our students.”

“In-person learning will resume for high school students for the first time in more than a year, and for the first time since March 2020 students in all grade levels at CPS have access to in-person learning,” Lightfoot and Jackson said in a joint statement.

Up to 26,000 high school students — about one-third of those eligible — have said they’re interested in returning to classrooms next week when buildings open for the first time during the pandemic. About 4,300 teachers and hundreds more support staff are also due back — and about 85% of them showed up as directed Monday and Tuesday before the union’s action started Wednesday.

Jackie Rodriguez (in yellow), a social studies teacher at Benito Juarez High School, joins other Chicago Teachers Union educators Thursday morning to teach remotely outside the Southwest Side school.
Jackie Rodriguez (in yellow), a social studies teacher at Benito Juarez High School, joins other Chicago Teachers Union educators Thursday morning to teach remotely outside the Southwest Side school.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

In the end, city officials agreed to create a CPS-run vaccination program for students aged 16 and older and coordinate appointments for high school students’ families, according to a a CTU document sent to members Thursday.

On the issue of school schedules, students at 37 high schools will attend in person four days a week, while kids at 53 schools will be split into cohorts that are in classrooms two days each week, the CTU told its members. The union had hoped some of the largest schools would have kids in schools one day per week, but the CTU compromised.

Teachers and staff will be allowed to work remotely on days when they don’t have in-person students or work assignments, and work-from-home accommodations and unpaid leaves of absence will be available where appropriate for those who have child care challenges, are medically vulnerable but are still in the process of getting vaccinated or have other difficulties.

The agreement allows CPS to reopen high schools as planned Monday without a delay — avoiding the drawn-out process with elementary schools that featured a much more acrimonious and toxic set of negotiations.

Mueze Bawany, an English and history teacher at Roberto Clemente Community Academy and member of the union’s high school bargaining committee, said earlier in the morning that the two sides were “close on all” issues.

“The fact is, we’re at the finish line,” Bawany told reporters at a Thursday morning news conference outside Benito Juarez Community Academy, where educators set up to teach their online students outside the building instead of reporting to work inside.

“There’s definitely progress being made. It’s a whole different world when both sides are listening to each other, [and] clearly the district is starting to understand some of the perspectives and points we’re bringing about.”

Margarita DeLuna, a Spanish teacher at Benito Juarez High School, sits next to her 4-year-old son Abel as she joins other Chicago Teachers Union educators Thursday morning to teach remotely outside the Southwest Side school.
Margarita DeLuna, a Spanish teacher at Benito Juarez High School, sits next to her 4-year-old son Abel as she joins other Chicago Teachers Union educators Thursday morning to teach remotely outside the Southwest Side school.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times