UPDATE: Chicago Public Schools students will be back in classrooms Wednesday after the district and the teachers union reached a deal. Read more here.
CHICAGO — Several Chicago Public Schools principals are calling off classes Tuesday as the district and teachers continue their fight over in-person learning during the pandemic.
CPS has yet to make a district-wide announcement about Tuesday classes. But leaders have allowed principals to decide whether to open their buildings for some academic services during the impasse based on staffing.
Principals at McPherson Elementary in Ravenswood, Steinmetz College Prep In Belmont Cragin and Senn High School in Edgewater are among those who have called off Tuesday classes as of Monday afternoon.
Others include Peirce Elementary in Andersonville, Pritzker Elementary in Wicker Park, Avondale-Logandale Elementary, Scammon and Belding Elementary and Schurz High School in Old Irving Park, Beaubien Elementary in Jefferson Park, Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park, Clinton and Rogers Elementary in West Ridge, Skinner West in the West Loop, Kenwood Academy, Lane Tech in North Center, Taft High School in Norwood Park and Whitney Young Magnet School in Near West Side, parents told Block Club.
Blaine Elementary in Lakeview is bringing back Pre-K through 1st graders, according to parents. Ravenswood Elementary offered gym, digital media and other in-person services for 35 Pre-K through 2nd grade students Monday and plans to do the same Tuesday, Principal Nicholas Guerrero said in an email, but there isn’t enough staff for grades 3 through 8.
Some schools including Alcott Elementary in Lincoln Park, Coonley Elementary in North Center and Hawthorne Academy in Lakeview have been offering in-person enrichment activities for students while classes are in limbo, parents said, although spots are already full for Tuesday in some cases. Chicago Academy Elementary School in Dunning also has no classes, but school leaders are offering in-person supervision during the school day, according to a parent.
Hitch Elementary in Norwood Park is offering virtual enrichment sessions in the morning, or packets parents can pick up for their students to complete at home, one parent said. A Jamieson Elementary parent in Peterson Park said students have enrichment packets to do at home and parents can access an online portal to ask questions.
Budlong Elementary in Lincoln Square already has called off classes through at least Wednesday. Principal Naomi Nakayama told parents last week the school is making arrangements for students to pick up devices in case there is remote learning. Jones College Prep in Printer’s Row is out Tuesday and Wednesday, according to a parent.
Other parents said they still had not heard from their principals late Monday afternoon about the status of classes tomorrow or later in the week.
For schools that are not having classes, food service will be available 9 a.m.-noon, and Safe Haven sites will be open Tuesday for child care. Those sites are here.
There’s been little information Monday about how talks between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union are proceeding, but major sticking points continue to revolve around testing and remote learning.
The union proposed letting kids and parents pick up laptops Monday and Tuesday then switching to remote learning Wednesday as the city’s worst-ever COVID-19 surge continues. Under the union’s proposal, kids would return to in-person learning after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Jan. 18.
The union also wants to implement an opt-out testing program that would randomly test students and staff for the virus, and reinstate a 2021 COVID-19 positivity rate metric for flipping the entire district to remote learning. Currently, only about 16 percent of CPS families have opted in to their child being regularly tested for COVID-19 at school.
The proposal also would push the district into remote learning if there are too many staff or student absences.
But Lightfoot and Martinez have said they will not negotiate on testing or a districtwide standard positivity rate that would trigger a switch to remote learning. They and city Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have said there’s no scientific basis to have the entire district halt in-person classes, preferring to evaluate potential problems school-by school. Lightfoot has blasted the opt-out testing as “morally repugnant.”
Dozens of Illinois school districts and some CPS charter schools have opt-out testing policies, according to the Sun-Times. Other districts across the country do mandatory weekly testing, like Los Angeles, or required negative tests before returning to school, like Washington D.C.
Quickly after the union went public with their proposal, Lightfoot and Martinez shot it down.
“CTU leadership, you’re not listening,” they said in a joint statement. “The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”
The escalating barbs continued Monday, as CTU President Jesse Sharkey blasted the mayor for not budging from her position.
“We feel like we’re at a point where we don’t have enough at the table to be able to go back to the people who, frankly, have sacrificed a lot at this point, and confidently say, ‘This is something that can help us ensure our safety,’” Sharkey said at a press conference in Little Village, according to the Sun-Times. “The mayor is being relentless, but she’s being relentlessly stupid, relentlessly stubborn.”
Here’s more on how we got to this point.
- Dec. 15: CPS sends out 150,000 tests for students to do during winter break, prioritizing schools in areas hardest hit by the pandemic
- Dec. 21: As cases spike, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez says the district will switch classrooms or schools to remote learning if the Omicron surge worsens, but remains against districtwide virtual learning
- Dec. 29: CPS extends deadline to return at-home COVID-19 tests after drop-off locations overwhelmed with test kits. Later it’s revealed nearly 70 percent of those tests were invalid. Many parents were told shipping delays meant their tests couldn’t be completed.
- Dec. 30: CPS pushes forward with return to in-person classes as scheduled
- Jan. 3: Students return to school; the same day, the teachers union announces they may vote to work remotely and refuse to report to their schools
- Jan. 4: After 73 percent of CTU voting members opt to switch to remote learning, CPS calls off all classes for Jan. 5.
- Jan. 5: The district locks out teachers who did not report to classrooms and puts them on no-pay status
- Jan. 6-7: Classes are called off as the district and union continue to clash. CPS gives some principals leeway to open schools for some academic services, though the majority cannot because of inadequate staffing.
- Jan. 7: Some schools, again citing not enough staff, begin calling off classes for Monday, while district, union pledge to continue talks through weekend
- Jan. 8: Union publicizes their latest proposal; Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Martinez quickly reject it
- Sunday: CPS cancels classes Monday as two sides cannot broker last-minute agreement
This is the second year in which the district and union have had prolonged disagreements about school safety during the pandemic.
CPS started the school year in January 2021 with a hybrid plan, allowing students to opt in or out of the classroom while teachers were required to work from their buildings. Many students who initially chose in-person learning changed their minds, and far fewer students came to classrooms than expected.
Leading up to the first day of class, many teachers who were recalled refused to show up to school buildings, while others protested the plan by working outside in 27-degree weather. The district responded by locking teachers out of their virtual classrooms.
The teachers’ union then voted to work remotely, defying CPS orders, and pledged to strike if the district blocked teachers from their virtual teaching platforms. The standoff forced CPS to keep students home for remote learning for two weeks until the two sides reached a deal Feb. 10. to reopen schools for preschoolers and kids with special needs.
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