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Some Chicago Schools Canceling Classes Monday, But District, Teachers Union Will Continue Talks Through Weekend

CPS has not officially canceled classes throughout the district, but many principals have already alerted parents they will have no school Monday.

Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, attends a press conference promoting COVID-19 vaccination in Chicago communities of color at City Hall on Nov. 16, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Some Chicago public schools are calling off classes Monday, the fourth straight day many students will not have in-person learning since coming back from winter break.

The district has not canceled classes throughout the city. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in an online meeting Friday there would be no class unless the district and Chicago Teachers Union can broker a deal to reopen for in-person learning over the weekend, according to the Tribune.

Martinez also said he is “cautiously” optimistic the two sides are reaching a compromise on several issues and pledged to work through the weekend on a deal, but ruled out temporarily transitioning to remote learning because he felt the instruction wouldn’t be up to par, the Tribune reported.

Later Friday evening, the district said the two sides will continue negotiating in hopes of reopening as soon as Monday.

“CPS is committed to working toward an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union throughout the weekend, and we are dedicated to working day and night so we can get our students back to school next week, hopefully on Monday,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We know families need to plan ahead and we will be sending additional communication over the weekend with a status update regarding classes on Monday.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Students arrive at Park Manor Elementary on Jan. 3, 2022.

Hours before the district’s announcement, principals had already begun telling parents their schools would not be in session Monday because they don’t have enough staff to offer instruction. Scammon Elementary in Old Irving Park canceled all classes while McPherson Elementary in Ravenswood is not having classes for kindergarten through 8th graders.

On Friday, Martinez authorized principals to bring back some students as long as they had enough staff. McPherson Principal Debbie Nikokavouras told parents in an email 51 Pre-K and low-incident cluster students were able to come to school Friday.

“I remain hopeful that we may be able to provide some opportunities for in-person activities and enrichment next week for our K-8,” Nikokavouras wrote. “Our goal is to be able to welcome all of our students back to our school as soon as possible. You can expect to receive a message no later than 4:00 p.m every day regarding our school’s plan for the next day. I am sorry. I need to make decisions on a day to day basis due to staffing. I truly appreciate your patience as I navigate this period of unknown.”

Both schools told parents to expect updates by 4 p.m. on whether there will be classes the following day. Scammon Principal Christos Liberos said administrators would decide Monday about classes for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates speaks to the press during a car caravan demonstration at Union Park on Jan. 5, 2022 in response to CPS canceling class Wednesday.

District and union leaders have been at odds about the safest way to educate kids while the city is enduring its worst-ever COVID-19 surge driven by the Omicron variant.

CPS locked teachers out of online classrooms Wednesday after the union Tuesday voted to move to remote learning. Both sides have filed unfair labor practices against each other, according to the Tribune, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Martinez have called the union’s action an illegal work stoppage. A group of parents also sued in Cook County to try to force teachers back to classrooms, according to WTTW.

The Chicago Principals & Administrators Association issued a public letter Friday saying principals were “blindsided” by the district’s decision to let some schools stay open on an individual basis.

“Principals don’t determine the resources and conditions that leave some schools ready to open and others unable to,” the letter reads. “Principals do not want the demoralizing task of telling one school community why it cannot open while others can.”

Before the union voted Tuesday, large swaths of students and staffers were either absent from class or quarantining due to widespread COVID-19 across the city. The Sun-Times reports more than one-third of CPS students were absent from classes the first two days back from winter break.

Lightfoot said Wednesday there were two major sticking points between herself and the union. Since Chicago does not have an elected school board, the district is under mayoral control.

She said they will not agree to union demands to set benchmarks for when all of CPS needs to switch back to remote learning due to virus spread. She also said they would not agree to the union’s demands to make school-based testing opt-out instead of opt-in. Lightfoot referred to COVID-19 testing as performing a “quasi-medical procedure on children without their parents’ knowledge or consent.”

It is not clear when in-person instruction will resume. Union members have previously said they will work remotely until Jan. 18, the district agrees to upgraded COVID-19 mitigations like increased testing, or the city’s positivity rate, currently at 22.7 percent, falls to 10 percent.

Alex V. Hernandez contributed to this report.

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