In a bold, high-stakes move, the Chicago Teachers Union on Saturday publicly presented the terms of what it calls a “full and comprehensive security deal” in the hope that it will prompt Mayor Lori Lightfoot and officials of the school district to respond to its demands and end the deadlock that began on Wednesday.
The new proposal includes a measure for the closure of all schools due to a wave of COVID-19, which the mayor and head of schools strongly oppose. Rather, they favor a school-by-school approach. The proposal includes distance learning starting Wednesday and a return to in-person learning on January 18.
The response from the mayor and the CEO of the PSC was immediate and unequivocal.
âLeaders of CTU, you are not listening,â they said in a statement. âThe safest and safest place for children is school. Students should be back in person as soon as possible. This is what parents want. This is what science supports. We will not give in.
Union leaders say their proposal offers important compromises. He pointed out that they had dropped their call for all students to submit a negative COVID-19 test before returning to in-person learning, which is required in some other school districts, including Washington, DC School staff will still need to test before returning. CTU leaders say it is now is the time for the mayor to compromise.
“This represents a change in our position and now we call on the public and the mayor to find in their hearts a compromise to reopen the schools,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at a press conference on Saturday afterwards. -mid, where the union the leaders were joined by Jesse Jackson.
He said they wanted instructions restart quickly and want to give parents a “certain date” when school resumes in person. He did, however, acknowledge that if the CPS adopted a city-wide measure to move all schools to distance education during a sustained increase that could impact the January 18 return date.
Sharkey called distance learning a flawed but necessary tool in the short term at a time when everyone was making difficult choices.
CPS classes have been canceled for three days and will be closed on Monday unless an agreement is reached that weekend. Sharkey said the two sides were in constant discussion and negotiations were underway, but said the mayor’s “categorical no” to any distance learning and widespread COVID-19 testing stood in the way.
The mayor and the school district have locked out teachers and staff after union members voted Tuesday night to challenge the requirement that they instruct in person. Teachers and staff have said they want to teach remotely until Jan. 18, but CPS and city officials say in-person learning is safe with security measures in place. They cite the academic and emotional impact of distance learning over the past year and say they don’t want to start over.
The proposal includes two key demands that the mayor and the school district have already flatly rejected. The first of these is a metric for sending the entire district to distance learning. It also includes a program to test 10% of randomly selected students each week, rather than just those students who have opted in to the test program. The mayor strongly opposes an “opt-out” program where students would be tested by default unless their parents withdraw them.
the proposal also does not allow you to resume in-person learning before January 18. Originally, CTU said it would return sooner if a security deal was reached before that date.
The mayor and school district officials did not offer an immediate response to the CTU’s terms. PSC Mayor and CEO Pedro Martinez released a statement on Friday saying the negotiations had been productive. They also issued a stark little warning: the negotiations “must be concluded this weekend”, according to the statement.
CTU leaders did not say they were presenting their “latest and best proposal” and indicated they would continue to negotiate with the mayor and his team. However, they said they didn’t see many places they could lean over.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said he didn’t even want to consider what would happen if the mayor refused to agree to these terms, which would last until the end of the school year. He raised the possibility that the refusal could prolong this impasse beyond January 18.
âWe always try to avoid the nuclear option,â Sharkey said. âBut we’re going to have to defend our members. “
If Lightfoot and Martinez agree to CTU’s proposal this weekend, Sharkey said, teachers would go to their classrooms on Monday to teach remotely. He said this would give parents assurance that the situation is being resolved. Distance learning would resume on Wednesday. Then on January 18, the school would be back in person, he said.
Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez might have an issue with this schedule as they insisted there was no reason for classes to be held remotely across the district. They say schools are safe, even in the midst of the omicron wave. They point out that children are at low risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19, especially when they are vaccinated.
CTU proposal details
Lightfoot and Martinez will likely have several issues with the CTU proposal.
The union wants to reinstate the measure agreed to last year for when the entire school district switches to distance learning amid an increase in COVID-19 cases. Calls for change when the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate rises for seven consecutive days, is at least 15% higher for seven days than the rate the week before; and the rate on the seventh day is 10% or more than the previous week.
Sharkey said this complicated metric only blocks in-person learning for “the most severe surges.” The union says the current wave is showing enough cases to meet this standard.
But on Thursday, Lightfoot insisted that a district-wide metric was not needed. She said the district doesn’t have to go all remote because most teachers and many students are vaccinated. She and Martinez also said this ignores the fact that some areas of the city have higher vaccination rates and significantly lower positivity rates.
âWhen there is a challenge, when there is a problem, we will pivot and, if we have to go distance, class by class or school by school, we will,â she said. “But we’ll do it based on the science, and we won’t let anyone tell us anything different that doesn’t match the science.”
The city’s public health commissioner also argues that COVID-19 for children behaves much like the flu, especially for vaccinated children and that schools are not closed for the flu.
CTU is also pushing for a metric showing when an individual school would be moved away due to a high number of staff absences. After long rejecting this, Martinez said he would accept a threshold to topple a school, but there is still disagreement over what that threshold would be.
The other proposal Lightfoot has already rejected centers on the union’s insistence that children can be randomly tested for COVID-19, unless a parent expressly excludes them.
The union wants the school district to agree to test 10% of randomly selected children each week, not just the 10% who opted for the district’s screening program. Plus, they say the 10% of students who have already signed up for the weekly tests should continue to participate. This would mean that the school district would have to commit to testing up to 60,000 students each week. It is not clear if the school district has the capacity to do this.
But the bigger question is getting a random sample when the current policy is that parents have to enroll their child in the weekly testing program. Currently, parents have to go online to enroll their children in the program, a process that some find complicated.
Sharkey said the policy must change to an “expectation” that all children are eligible for random testing, but union members would work diligently to get withdrawal forms into the hands of students and ensure that ‘they are collected.
Sharkey said a random COVID-19 testing program is essential to curb the spread.
But Lightfoot is strongly opposed to a membership program, calling it morally wrong to perform a quasi-medical procedure without the knowledge or affirmative consent of a parent.
âAs a parent of a child, I would be outraged if a school system did something with my child that I didn’t know, and I didn’t clear in the affirmative,â she said Thursday. âWhy would we take this option away from parents? We’re not going to do this. Come up with another plan.
Another request that Lightfoot and Martinez could push back is to pay the staff for the school days that have been canceled. The school district stopped paying teachers and staff who did not attend schools this week, which made up at least 87% of teachers. In previous labor disputes, Lightfoot has objected to the integrity of the staff.
The union also wants staff who are medically fragile or who cannot get vaccinated to be able to take unpaid leave if they fear contracting COVID-19. He also suggested that contact tracing should be done by school staff rather than district teams. District contact tracing has been widely criticized for not being effective in informing parents that their children have been exposed.
The leaders of the CTU have defended this approach of making public demands and essentially trying to negotiate outside the negotiating table. The union presented the proposal to its elected officials on Saturday morning to get their green light.
CTU leaders say they want the public to understand they are asking for many protections schools across the country already have. Many school districts across the state and nation have halted in-person learning and stepped up COVID-19 testing amid the record increase in COVID-19 cases.
Sharkey also criticized Lightfoot for making deadlock a national issue regarding distance learning versus in-person learning. He said she was making matters worse by being on TV and accusing the union of trying to harm children.
For the union, the stalemate concerns mechanisms to make schools safe for staff and students.
But Lightfoot, Martinez and the Chicago Department of Public Health chief argue the union is unreasonable. They say all studies show COVID-19 transmission is lower in schools than in the community with appropriate mitigation in place.
In fact, Martinez said having students in the home can help further community spread.