Chicago Public Schools Go Remote, Union Preps For Possible Strike

Mark Konkol
·3 min read

CHICAGO — Don't call it a strike, yet. But a stalemate in negotiations over when Chicago Public Schools will return to in-person learning inched closer to a teacher walk out as the teachers union told members to teach classes remotely on Wednesday.

After negotiations over coronavirus safety protocols ground to a halt on Tuesday, Chicago Teachers Union officials informed sent a message to the rank-and-file saying "barring some late-breaking change" all union members will work remotely Wednesday against the school district's orders. And if Chicago Public School officials retaliate by locking teachers out of online-learning programs, CTU leaders said all members are to stop working Thursday and "set up picket lines at their schools," the union wrote in a message to teachers.

In response, CPS chief executive Janice Jackson sent a letter to parents saying “the district has no choice but to ask parents to keep your children home tomorrow."

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Tuesday night news conference that she's "deeply disappointed" that after all the negotiations and investments in coronavirus safety protocols the school system and union have failed to reach an agreement.

"Of course we want you to be safe. Of course, we take your health and safety incredibly seriously, and we have built a plan to make sure you can get the vaccine. But you need to work with us, you need to talk to your leadership, because we can’t get" to an agreement with cooperating, the mayor said.

Despite the decision to move classes to all remote-learning Wednesday, the mayor said the district will move forward with plans to provide the option for some students to return to classrooms on Monday.

CTU officials said in a statement that negotiations with the school system have stalled. The union is "publicly calling for mediation to resolve the impasse."

“We are willing to keep teaching, but CPS has said they will lock us out,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. “We are willing to keep negotiating, but CPS has refused to back down from insisting that 80% of educators and support staff return on February 1 to serve fewer than 20% of the students. ... Is the mayor creating a crisis just to get her way on a reopening date that ignores the risks in our schools and our neighborhoods? We need a mediator to intervene and put our attempts to bargain a truly safe path to reopening back on track.”

CTU is set to hold an all-member meeting tonight at 7 p.m. to discuss negotiation developments and review plans for "tomorrow and the rest of the week."

Mayor Lightfoot has said that the school system has three weeks of data that shows returning to in-person learning is safe in Chicago. The mayor and Chicago's top doctor Dr. Alison Arwady said other studies, including one touted by the Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday, show that in-person learning does not contribute to significant spread of COVID-19.

This is a developing story.

This article originally appeared on the Chicago Patch