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CPS High School Teachers Work Remotely As Reopening Negotiations Continue Between CTU, City

CPS high schools are supposed to reopen Monday — but negotiations between the district and teachers union are ongoing.

An eighth grader gets their temperature checked as sixth thru eighth graders return to in-person learning at Richardson Middle School in the West Lawn neighborhood on March 8, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Teachers at Chicago Public Schools high schools will work remotely Wednesday, part of a labor action as their union negotiates with the city over reopening schools during the pandemic.

CPS high school teachers and paraprofessionals returned to schools this week, with some students expected to follow come Monday. But members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted this weekend to take the labor action of working remotely if the CTU and city hadn’t come to an agreement on safely reopening schools by Tuesday night. Negotiations are ongoing — meaning high school teachers are staying home and teaching virtually.

“We’re doing the action to protest the fact we do not yet have a return-to-work agreement,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said during a Wednesday morning news conference.

But Sharkey said “bargaining has actually been fairly productive,” with the CTU getting a proposal that was “quite responsive” to one of its concerns on Tuesday night.

“Hopefully, the board responds this morning, we can pull our membership in and get a fair settlement,” Sharkey said. “But if there’s no response forthcoming, and if the board sticks to unreasonable positions, then we’ll have to continue to go down this path.”

Wednesday’s move to work from home mirrors actions the CTU took in February, when the union and city were in a stalemate over reopening CPS schools with younger students. The tense negotiations between CPS and the CTU led to weeks-long delays in schools reopening.

The CTU has said CPS needs to take more safety precautions to protect students, teachers and school communities, as the city is seeing a rise in new cases of coronavirus, hospitalizations and its positivity rate. City officials have said this rise is being driven by young people, with people ages 18-29 making up the most new cases.

The CTU wants the city to commit to creating a program for vaccinating students before CPS reopens its high schools to students. The Moderna vaccine can be used on people 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16 and older.

The CTU also wants child care and health accommodations for teachers and for teachers to be able to teach remotely on Wednesdays.

Officials have acknowledged it will be trickier to bring back high school students since, among other things, they take a wider variety of classes than younger students. Those schedules make it hard for students to stay within “pods” where all teens take the same classes and, if a member of a pod is exposed to COVID-19, individual pods can quarantine.

CPS promised to report coronavirus cases connected to schools as part of reopening for younger students — and its data shows 1,056 adult cases and 115 student cases of COVID-19 since March 2020, with the bulk of the cases reported in the fall and winter.

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