Mayor Lori Lightfoot blames Trump administration for impasse between Chicago Public Schools and teachers union

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot again made an appearance on national television Tuesday to provide a status report of ongoing negotiations between the country’s third-largest school district and the Chicago Teachers Union.

But although she told MSNBC Monday that the issue was “uniquely local,” during a Tuesday appearance on CNNs “New Day,” she instead laid blame far beyond the scope of the city’s dueling factions.

Lightfoot didn’t invoke the name of the nation’s 45th president but she suggested the ongoing impasse between Chicago Public Schools and CTU, over whether it is safe to return to in-person instruction as early as Thursday, stems from the failed vaccine rollout under former President Donald Trump.

“This is a very difficult situation and we’re in it, still, because of the incompetence of the previous administration. So I think it’s important for both sides to come to the table in good faith, recognize that we’re both trying to work through a very challenging situation but we must get a deal done,” Lightfoot said to “New Day” cohost Alisyn Camerota.

Camerota asked Lightoot to detail the sticking points that have thus far kept the district and union from agreeing on terms to reopen schools to more than 60,000 kindergarten through eighth grade students. Thousands of preschool and special education students returned Jan. 11 but reverted to virtual learning after CTU members voted to work only remotely until they had a reopening agreement.

Lightfoot said the issues still at stake are vaccines and accommodations for teachers with health concerns. She said the city has provided thousands of accommodations to teachers who are worried about their safety, but union representatives have stressed too few accommodations were granted. The union also shared a social media post Monday with a link to a December Tribune story regarding the number of accommodation requests that were denied.

Though more accommodations have been granted since, CTU said the rate of denials for those who sought to continue remote teaching because of an elderly or immunocompromised relative “unconscionable.”

The union also tweeted that Lightfoot was on TV claiming anyone with an underlying health condition did not need to report in person, on the same day many teachers awoke to learn their accommodations were voided. It also accused the district of not even reading some of the applications.

“CPS leadership hasn’t even read many teachers’ accommodation documents, but denied them anyway, and has left people with desperately vulnerable children and family denied or in limbo,” it said Monday.

Lightfoot was also asked whether the teachers union is demanding all teachers be vaccinated before they return to classrooms. She said she didn’t want to “negotiate everything here on TV,” adding that “it’s important that we focus on what’s realistic and what’s not.”

She later repeated her comments about the vaccine rollout, but said she remains optimistic.

“These are really difficult times in a pandemic, exacerbated by the incompetence of the previous administration that didn’t leave us with enough vaccine to really quickly get to the entire population in our city that needs it. But we’re going to keep working hard recognizing the concern that, really, all of our residents have regarding COVID-19,” she said.

Lightfoot would not say whether she thinks school will be in session Thursday following the “cooling-off period,” which she said was intended to allow the sides to reach an agreement without the threat of virtual classroom lockouts.

“We are making some progress and I thought it was in the interest of all that we announce a cooling-off period, meaning the negotiations would continue, intensely, but we would not take any disciplinary action against teachers who were refusing to report to their classrooms.”

Negotiations were expected to continue Tuesday.

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