Mayor insists schools are safe as CTU plans Tuesday vote on unauthorized remote learning

The CTU is worried about school safety, particularly with a surge in new COVID-19 cases in Chicago following winter break.

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Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaks during a press conference outside Joseph Jungman Elementary School in Pilsen to call for “safety, equity and trust in any school reopening plan” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday morning, Jan. 18, 2021.

Stacy Davis Gates, CTU’s vice president, said teachers at Park Manor are teaching remotely “because there is zero evidence that this school community is ready to reopen.”

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

As the Chicago Teachers Union gets set to vote this week on whether to have members work remotely — something the district doesn’t support — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday insisted that schools are safe.

“Our schools are not the source of significant spread. The issue is community spread. But we need to keep our kids in schools, which is what we’re going to do in Chicago,” Lightfoot said during a live interview on CNBC.

Lightfoot was not asked during the interview about the CTU’s threat to work remotely without authorization. But the mayor reiterated her intention to keep Chicago Public Schools open, in part, because of what she called the “devastating” and lingering impact on students from the prolonged, pandemic-induced shutdown.

Too often that impact is ignored in the “coverage of the saber-rattling by teachers union leadership,” Lightfoot said.

“We know that learning loss was profound. We know that there were huge gaps in achievement. We know that the mental health and trauma issues of our students was real. And we know that it was devastating on families, particularly those families where parents could not afford” to stay home from work, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, teachers at one South Side elementary school planned to work remotely Monday.

Park Manor Elementary School, 7037 S. Rhodes Ave., was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak just before winter break, the union says. Staff at the school volunteered during the break to distribute district-supplied, take-home tests to students only to learn that those tests were faulty, the union said.

Stacy Davis Gates, CTU’s vice president, said teachers at Park Manor are teaching remotely “because there is zero evidence that this school community is ready to reopen.”

The union has complained for months that the district hasn’t done enough to ensure in-person learning is safe during the pandemic. The district says it is closely following the protocols from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some city charter schools decided to conduct virtual learning this week because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

On Tuesday, the CTU plans to call a meeting of its House of Delegates, elected members who represent their schools, to discuss a citywide action. The union will also hold an electronic vote of its members on whether they approve of working remotely without CPS permission. If both are in favor, the union plans to take action and do so starting Wednesday, demanding better COVID-19 safety protocols, including increased testing and access to better masks.

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