Chicago teachers vote to challenge order to return to class, citing health concerns

Chicago teachers vote to challenge order to return to class, citing health concerns

CHICAGO – The Chicago teachers’ union said on Sunday its members voted to challenge the order to return to class over concerns about COVID-19, setting up a confrontation with district officials who said they refused to return on order would amount to an illegal strike.

Public schools in Chicago, the third largest district in the country, wanted about 10,000 K-8 teachers and other staff return at school on Monday to prepare to welcome around 70,000 students again for part-time classes at school starting February 1. No return date has been set for high school students.

The teachers’ union, however, opposes the plan concerned about the health of its members and asked them to continue teaching at home in defiance of the district plan. The union said the district’s safety plan was insufficient and before teachers can return safely to schools, vaccinations should be more widespread and different measures to measure infections should be in place.

“There is no doubt that we all want to come back to teaching in person. The problem is CPS’s current lack of preparation for a return to face-to-face teaching, and the clear and present danger that poses to the health of our families and school communities, ”the union said in a statement.

The two sides have been negotiating for months, and talks continued after the outcome of the vote was announced in hopes of reaching an agreement.

CPS officials said on Sunday they had agreed to delay the return of teachers by two days to give the parties more time to negotiate. But they said kindergarten to grade 8 teachers should still resume in-person teaching on February 1.

“We now agree on a lot more than we disagree, but our discussions are still ongoing and it takes more time to reach a resolution,” district CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement.

School officials argued that distance learning was not working for all students, including many low-income and black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. District safety plan includes thousands of air purifiers, more cleaning, and a voluntary testing program

The district of about 355,000 students, which switched to full-time online education last March due to the pandemic, has gradually welcomed students again. Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education resumed in-person learning earlier this month and teachers who have not returned to their classes were punished.

The union also argued that schools do not need to be fully staffed with lower attendance than expected.

CPS data showed that about 19% of students who were eligible for pre-kindergarten and special education in-person learning at the start of the month participated. That figure was even lower than a December poll that showed about 6,500 of the nearly 17,000 eligible kindergarten and special education students were interested.

The union’s collective agreement, which was approved after a 2019 strike, bars its roughly 25,000 members from striking and prohibits district officials from locking them out. District officials said a union vote to disobey the order to return to school on Monday would violate the contract.

Union officials, however, say returning to face-to-face training before its members are vaccinated and without other safeguards in place would put them at greater risk of contracting the virus. They argue that if the district tries to punish teachers for staying home on Monday, then the district would be responsible for a work stoppage.

Illinois Monday is scheduled to begin next phase of his vaccination …

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