Members of the Chicago Teachers Union have approved a return to in-person learning in Chicago Public Schools classrooms, setting the stage for students to return to class as soon as Thursday morning.
According to a press release, the CTU Rules and Elections Committee certified the ballot results on the proposal, which was hammered out over the weekend during negotiations between the two sides in the dispute.
In all, 13,681 union members voted in favor of the proposal, representing 67.5% of the ballots cast, according to the CTU. Another 6,585 members voted no.
The agreement will send students and teachers in cluster learning programs and pre-K classes back to classrooms beginning on Thursday. Teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade will report to classrooms on Feb. 22, with students in those grades reporting on March 1.
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Teachers in sixth through eighth grade classrooms will report back to class on March 1, with students returning on March 8.
According to CPS officials, approximately 20% of students in CPS schools have opted for a return to in-person learning, with the other 80% continuing with remote learning for the time being.
Even with the agreement now in place, CTU Board President Jesse Sharkey blasted Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership, saying that those leaders do not care about “real safety for students, their families, and the educators and school staff who support them” in a letter to CTU membership.
“This agreement represents where we should have started months ago, not where this has landed,” Sharkey’s letter read, in part. “That is a stain on the record of their administration. In a humane system, we would have used this as a beginning to build out real equity for school communities that had been starved of resources and equity decades before the pandemic hit.”
Sharkey says that the new agreement puts the union in a “vastly better position” in negotiating for further safety reforms, as well as in obtaining additional doses of the coronavirus vaccine for staff and teachers.
The agreement between the two sides calls for an additional 1,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per week to be administered to CTU members, with members also eligible for doses from the city of Chicago’s stockpile as part of Phase 1B of the state of Illinois’ vaccination plan.
The agreement also contains language surrounding ventilation in schools, as well as enhanced contact tracing protocols. Procedures are also in place to suspend in-person learning at the classroom, and ultimately district, level if coronavirus cases increase in the city.
Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson have defended the plan aggressively, saying that it was constructed in close consultation with the Chicago Department of Public Health. Both leaders have said that their priority in negotiations was equity, with teachers and staffers in areas hard-hit by the virus getting first access to the vaccine.