District and union officials hoped to make progress at the bargaining table beginning late Sunday morning, but in two earlier nationally-televised appearances, Janice Jackson, the head of Chicago Public Schools, said her agency and the Chicago Teachers Union remain divided on some issues.
“Our goal is to open up schools as planned,” Jackson said on a segment on Face the Nation Sunday morning. “The goal right now is to get a resolution, CTU has made it clear that they want a deal and we share the same sentiment.”
Jackson said there remains discussion about vaccinations and addressing individuals with concerns for returning to in-person instruction, such as staff with preexisting health conditions. Her comments on the program came after an earlier appearance on CNNs “Inside Politics Sunday with Abby Phillip.”
Schools first reopened Jan. 11 to more than 3,000 preschool and special education students whose families chose in-person learning.
“We have a solid plan in place that goes above and beyond, we believe we can safely reopen and we have been reopened with great success,” she said.
The tentative agreements as of Saturday are in four areas, including health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing and safety committees, according to a news release from the union.
For health and safety protocols, there will be health screenings and temperature checks, access to hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, face coverings and personal protective equipment, regular cleaning and disinfection protocols, and social distancing, the statement said.
Jackson also said the district took “an extensive effort to ensure” that all classrooms used for the year will be properly ventilated, the statement said. Contract tracing efforts will also take place in coordination with the Chicago Department of Public Health.
On CNN, Jackson said schools need to reopen not only to meet the needs of parents who want to send their children back but because of all the other roles schools provide in the city.
“Schools are not only a safe haven and a place for kids to get a quality education but it also is a place where many of their needs are met. And so I think the first step is to safely reopen schools so that that resource and that hub is there for many of our communities,” she said.
Jackson also said the district has been advocating for prioritizing vaccines for teachers, but stressed that it isn’t the only factor to consider when reopening and needs to be used in conjunction with other health precautions.
“We can safely reopen schools. The vaccine will definitely take us further, which is why we’re working with our city’s health department in order to vaccinate our teachers as quickly as possible. But I just think it’s important to note that it’s an important tool but it’s not a necessary tool to reopen schools,” she said.
Phillip asked how Jackson can be assured all the safety protocols will be followed in a district so large, to which Jackson responded, the proof is in the previous three weeks.
“First I would point to just the three weeks of success we’ve had successfully bringing back students in our cluster programs and in our pre-K programs. Teachers and principals are taking the steps extremely seriously when I go into schools to visit. And we’ve seen that happen even when COVID cases arise, people are quickly reporting, we’re able to quarantine folks, and so I believe that our teachers and principals and school-based staff will do what’s needed,” she said.
Phillip also asked Jackson what is behind the hesitancy of some families to want to return in-person and what the district is doing to convince them it’s safe.
“I think that a lot has been made around this equity question but if we’re really serious about equity we have to address the fact that many of our African American students, in particular, are struggling in this environment,” she said.
Jackson added that families who want remote education will continue to have that option for the remainder of the school year. “But we can not negate the fact that there are thousands of students here in CPS that aren’t logging on every day and are falling behind every day and we’re going to have to recover from that,” she said.
A union representative said both sides headed back to the bargaining table at 11 a.m.