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CTU union head accuses mayor of being ‘relentlessly stupid’ in her position on reopening schools

Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Monday as negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and district officials continued into Sunday night.

Evaleen Garza, a social emotional learning teacher at Josefa Ortiz De Dominguez Elementary School, gives a student a flyer as she and other Chicago Teachers Union members canvass and attempt to sign Chicago Public Schools students up for COVID-19 testing, outside the school at 3000 S. Lawndale Ave. on the Southwest Side, Monday morning, Jan. 10, 2022.
Evaleen Garza, a social emotional learning teacher at Josefa Ortiz De Dominguez Elementary School, and other Chicago Teachers Union members on Monday signed up Chicago Public Schools students for COVID-19 testing.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey on Monday accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of being “relentlessly stupid” in her dealings with the union and in trying to reach a deal to restart schools.

“We feel like we’re at a point where we don’t have enough at the table to be able to go back to the people who, frankly, have sacrificed a lot at this point, and confidently say, ‘This is something that can help us ensure our safety,’” Sharkey said. “The mayor is being relentless, but she’s being relentlessly stupid, relentlessly stubborn.”

CTU and Chicago Public Schools officials negotiated until about 10 p.m. Sunday without reaching a deal.

In the escalating war of words, Sharkey also said: “The mayor is saying she is going to be relentless in prosecuting a case, but the mayor is not a prosecutor and I’m not a criminal being prosecuted. Our members are not people who’ve done anything wrong.”

“Bargaining is at serious phase; that’s good news, but what’s not good news is that we still remain apart on a number of key features that we need to restart our stalled schools,” Sharkey said outside Spry Elementary in the Little Village neighborhood.

Chicago Teachers Union members stand outside Josefa Ortiz De Dominguez Elementary School at 3000 S. Lawndale Ave. on the Southwest Side, canvasing and attempting to sign Chicago Public Schools students up for COVID-19 testing, Monday morning, Jan. 10, 2022.
Chicago Teachers Union members on Monday attempted to sign students up for COVID-19 testing outside Josefa Ortiz De Dominguez Elementary School on the Southwest Side.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

CTU presented a revised proposal Saturday that called for remote classes most of this week and a return to in-person classes the following Tuesday. Lightfoot told union leaders “you’re not listening” and demanded teachers return to classrooms.

With classes called off Monday and the rest of the week hanging in the balance, Lightfoot and the teachers union continued to publicly take shots at each other.

During an appearance on “Meet the Press,” Lightfoot claimed the CTU engaged in “an illegal walkout” by voting to pull out of in-person learning over renewed safety concerns sparked by the current historic surge of COVID-19 cases.

“They abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families,” Lightfoot said. “We are working diligently every single day at the bargaining table to narrow the differences and to get a deal done.”

CTU officials released a statement, saying, in part, “Educators are not the enemy Mayor Lightfoot wants them to be.”

On Monday Sharkey said: “We don’t like bullies, we don’t like tyrants. We’re not going to be bullied or pushed into a corner. So that’s where we’re at right now.”

Matt DeMateo, a father of three Chicago Public Schools students and a pastor at New Life Community Church, joins a group of pastors, CPS parents, business leaders and medical professionals to call on CPS and Chicago Teachers Union leadership to end their standoff, during a news conference at the church in Little Village on the Southwest Side, Monday morning, Jan. 10, 2022.
Matt DeMateo, a father of three Chicago Public Schools students and a pastor at New Life Community Church
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Meanwhile, a group of Little Village pastors, CPS parents, business leaders and medical professionals called on CPS and CTU to end their “squabble” and get kids back to learning.

“Our children and families shouldn’t continue to be the victims in the squabble between CPS and the teachers union. We are calling for an immediate resolution and plan to return to learning for children,” said Matt DeMateo, a father of three CPS students and a pastor at New Life Community Church.

The group didn’t offer specific solutions that might end the stalemate, but simply said it must end. DeMateo said the learning could be either in-person or remote.

Esther Corpuz, CEO of Alivio Medical Center, joins a group of pastors, CPS parents, business leaders and medical professionals to call on Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union leadership to end their standoff, during a news conference at New Life Community Church in Little Village on the Southwest Side, Monday morning, Jan. 10, 2022.
Esther Corpuz, CEO of Alivio Medical Center
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

But Esther Corpuz, CEO of Alivio Medical Center, which serves a mostly Latino population, said children are suffering without being physically in school. Corpuz said her staff saw a “huge increase” in the treatment of depression while kids were learning remotely.

“Because children feel isolated and they don’t have the same learning capabilities that they do in a classroom — not having their best friend they can study with,” she said.

Corpuz also pointed out that her staff have sometimes “with a very heavy heart and with sorrow, they have left their kids at home by themselves ... because they have no alternative.”

“Let’s look at the whole picture,” Corpuz said. “Let’s put all of our political feeling aside.”