Chicago Public Schools canceled school Monday as negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and district officials continued into Sunday night.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez announced the news to nix classes in a district-wide email, saying that “there has not been sufficient progress for us to predict a return to class tomorrow.”
“We will continue to negotiate through the night and will provide an update if we have made substantial progress,” Martinez added.
Top teachers union leaders weren’t at a CTU virtual meeting Sunday evening because they were still at the bargaining table, a union official told members.
“It’s Sunday night, and they’re still at the table, which is a good sign,” CTU organizer Johanna Maldonado said toward the beginning of the meeting.
CTU Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson said there’s been a lot of dialogue between the two parties throughout the day and she expects CTU leaders are “going to continue working as long as it takes tonight to keep things moving and keep hopefully making progress.”
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” she added.
CTU presented a revised proposal Saturday that called for remote classes most of next week and a return to in-person classes the following Tuesday. Mayor Lori 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.”
“The one place the more than 20,000 teachers, clinicians, paraprofessionals and other educators of this city want to be is inside classrooms with their students,” the statement reads. “This desire must be balanced by ensuring those classrooms are safe, healthy and well-resourced, with the proper mitigation necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Lightfoot insisted the classroom is “the safest place” for kids, noting that the district has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to that end. And she claimed the ongoing standoff “has had cascading negative ripple effects not only on the students in their learning, their social and emotional welfare, but also on the families themselves.”
“It is making them have tenuous financial status because they have to work, but they also have to take care of their kids. This is an untenable situation and completely, utterly avoidable,” the mayor said. “So I’m going to be on the side of the parents fighting every single day to get our kids back in school.”
Lightfoot noted that the school district has devised a new proposal for a school-by-school metric to determine when remote learning should be triggered, though she claimed the district has already allowed schools and classrooms to move to remote learning when there’s been a need. She said the district hasn’t “sat idly by and let COVID rage through our schools,” adding that a total of 53 outbreaks have been discovered throughout the pandemic.
But Lightfoot said the biggest issues at the bargaining table are opt-out testing, where students default to in-school testing until their parents opt them out, and remote learning for a few days next week, which she framed as a non-starter.
“We’re doing what we need to do. We’re following the science,” Lightfoot said. “And what I won’t do is allow the teachers union to politicize this surge or the pandemic in general. People are nervous. They are scared. We get that, but the thing to do is to lean into the facts and the science and not abandon them in a panic.”
The union has wanted for a safety agreement since the fall but hadn’t taken a work action until this month. With the highly contagious Omicron variant spreading at unprecedented levels in Chicago and beyond, the union said it will remain at the bargaining table “until we reach an agreement that will return us all to in-person learning safely and equitably.”