Chicago Teachers Union Accepts Deal to Return Students to Classrooms

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The Chicago Teachers Union accepted a deal to continue in-person learning at city schools, following a five-day teacher walkout protesting the district’s Covid policies.

The deal passed with support of 56 percent of union members in favor, in an unusually close vote for the organization, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Students had already returned to school buildings on Wednesday, after Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the tentative deal to reopen schools on Monday.

Under the terms of the deal, Chicago Public Schools and the union agreed to close school buildings if at least 30 percent of teachers in a given building are absent for over two days because of quarantine or positive Covid diagnoses, the Sun-Times reported. Schools will also close if 40 percent or more of the student body is in quarantine for Covid-related reasons.

CTU members voted to strike last week amid a rise in cases of the Omicron variant of Covid, with the union demanding increased safety measures including that every student be tested for Covid before returning to in-person learning. Universal Covid testing is not required under the new deal, although CPS will attempt to expand testing to include 10 percent of all students in the district.

The deal came after heated exchanges between CTU president Jesse Sharkey and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, the latter of whom has insisted that students return for in-person instruction.

“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 on Monday. “The mayor is being relentless, but she’s being relentlessly stupid, she is being relentlessly stubborn.”

Last week, Lightfoot said the union was holding students “hostage.”

“I will not allow [the union] to take our children hostage,” Lightfoot told reporters. “I will not allow them to compromise the future of this generation of CPS students. That is not going to happen.”

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