CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union could vote this week to go on strike because because many teachers think Chicago Public Schools’ controversial reopening plan puts their health at risk, sources confirmed to Block Club Tuesday.
The teachers union will call a meeting of its 700 House of Delegates members Wednesday to discuss whether to strike or take other action. The district’s teachers could vote on an action Thursday and Friday, sources said.
The vote would be the first of several steps the union would need to take to move towards a strike. Thousands of teachers are slated to report to the classroom Monday to prepare for 70,000 students expected to return to schools for in-person learning Feb. 1.
Union leaders plan to discuss Wednesday a collective action in which teachers might refuse to work at schools but continue teaching online, which doesn’t fit the definition of a traditional strike, according to Chalkbeat Chicago. It’s unclear if district officials would then classify those teachers as absent without leave and lock them out from email and Google Classroom accounts, as it has done with dozens of teachers who have refused to teach from their buildings in over the past week.
At least 75 percent of teachers union members would need to vote to authorize a strike under state law.
In a virtual town hall Monday, Union President Jesse Sharkey urged members to vote for a unified action, Chalkbeat Chicago reports.
The union has vigorously fought CPS’ reopening plan, saying it harms school staff and families in communities already ravaged by the pandemic. District leaders and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have said the school reopening plan — which requires teachers to return but not students, who can still learn virtually — helps disadvantaged families and students who are falling behind due to remote learning.
Some preschool and special needs students returned to classrooms last week after 300 days of learning from home because of coronavirus. Despite repeated requests for attendance numbers, the district has not said how many of the 6,000 expected children actually showed up.
During the first few days of in-person learning, two employees at McCutcheon Elementary School tested positive for coronavirus, putting eight school employees in quarantine.
Earlier Tuesday, schools chief Janice Jackson said at a roundtable with parents who support reopening that the ongoing negotiations with the union must center around “how to reopen schools safely, not a debate around whether or not schools should reopen.”
In total, 77,000 of the district’s 355,000 students are expected to return to in-person learning this year.
The Chicago Teachers Union waged an 11-day strike in October 2019, pushing for better pay, smaller class sizes and more special education teachers, among other issues. It was the longest strike in three decades.
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