Chicago Teachers Union Now Says There’s ‘No Agreement’ To Return To High School Classrooms, Demands City Return To Negotiations

Chicago’s elementary and middle school students have returned, part-time to Chicago Public Schools classrooms, but the Chicago Teachers Union is resisting the next round of re-openings, demanding the city return to the bargaining table or face new delays.

High schools in the Chicago Public School system are set to resume in-classroom instruction on April 19, but the Chicago Teachers Union, which fought for two months to keep elementary and middle school students out of classrooms and tied to virtual learning, says it will not allow its teachers to return to high school classrooms unless CPS again meets its demands

“Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement Tuesday evening in response to an email to high school families saying no agreement has been reached on a return to in-person learning,” CBS Chicago reported last week.

“Let me be clear: We have no agreement on returning to in-person learning in high schools on any date, nor will there be an agreement until we know our school buildings can reopen safely,” the union’s leader, Jesse Sharkey, said in his letter to parents.

Earlier in 2021, CPS and CTU tangled over a re-opening plan that was supposed to see some CPS students returning to classrooms in mid-February, with rolling re-openings through early March. CTU refused to agree to the timeline, demanding that CPS vaccinate all teachers and staff before allowing them to interact with students and that teachers who were particularly  “vulnerable” to the virus or lived with someone vulnerable to the virus be allowed to operate a virtual classroom indefinitely. When CPS refused to meet CTU’s demands, the union threatened to strike — a threat that its members, who would not have received back pay for what would be considered an “illegal” walkout under the existing collective bargaining agreement, resisted.Eventually, the two parties struck a deal that priorities CPS workers for vaccines and expanded conditions under which some teachers could remain virtual — but now, with a full return-to-work on the horizon, the union is trying to force the school district to meet higher demands.

This time, the union wants high school students to be “part of the discussion,” CBS Chicago reports, and wants the public school system to provide information on how many teachers have been vaccinated, how many staff members have been offered the vaccine, and how many elementary and middle school students have returned to classrooms.

CTU, though, now stands accused of undermining CPS efforts on vaccination. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CTU’s president told members not to respond to a survey seeking information on whether target populations had been offered the vaccine.

“In an email to members, Sharkey said teachers shouldn’t respond to a CPS survey asking workers to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated; he instead insisted it be negotiated with CPS. Vaccinations were among the union’s biggest demands in K-8 bargaining,” the Sun-Times noted. “Last week, Jackson said only 41% of CPS staff have responded, and she was ‘disappointed’ to learn of Sharkey’s message to members.”

CPS says re-opening high schools is still on track for April 19.

“CPS said negotiations with the teachers union remain ongoing, but that the return of high school students was based on a discussion with the joint task force created to ensure a safe return for students amid the coronavirus pandemic,” CBS reported.

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