CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Teachers Union said all high school staff at the Chicago Public Schools will begin to work from home on Wednesday if there isn’t “adequate movement” toward a reopening agreement with the district, as high school students prepare to return to classrooms in one week.
CPS is planning to bring thousands of high school students back to classrooms on April 19, and has been negotiating with CTU on a safe reopening agreement, but the union has accused the district of failing to provide “reasonable accommodations” for teachers.
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“Roughly three out of four CPS students have elected not to return to in-person learning as health professionals warn of another COVID surge and Chicago’s South and West Side residents continue to struggle to access vaccinations. Yet CPS has dragged on granting accommodations requests to hundreds of educators with life-threatening illnesses, acute child care issues or medically vulnerable family members. Instead, those members are being pushed to come back into buildings, even if it means putting their health on the line,” the union said in a statement.
Apart from accommodations for staff, the union said sticking points in negotiations with CPS include high school schedules that minimize the risk of spreading COVID, remote work plans, and vaccinations for high school students and their families.
“Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership again flatly refused this weekend to consider using CPS’ four vaccination sites to facilitate getting shots to students and their families, or to facilitate getting vaccine to CPS families in cooperation with the Union. Instead, the mayor’s Chicago Department of Public Health Director Alison Arwady told the CTU at the bargaining table this weekend that she was unconcerned about bringing thousands of unvaccinated teens back into school buildings in a week,” the union said in a statement. “Instead, Arwady reaffirmed CPS’ position to continue to rely on the mayor’s ‘Hunger Games’ system of vaccine distribution, which has made it enormously difficult for residents in South and West side neighborhoods ravaged by COVID to access shots.”
CPS and Lightfoot have held firm on plans to reopen high schools on April 19, but union leaders have said that plan should be delayed for at least a week.
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In a letter to high school families on Sunday, CPS officials said they “are firmly committed to welcoming back all interested high school students when the new quarter begins” on April 19.
“Over the weekend, we have been engaged in productive discussions with CTU leadership to ensure a smooth transition back for our students and staff. Those discussions will continue tomorrow, and we are working to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” the district said.
CPS officials claimed they have made progress on scheduling models, and safety protocols for students and staff in high school buildings.
“We have also agreed that high school staff will be able to work on Wednesdays, which is a remote day for all students, and we will work to support vaccinations for students when they are eligible and doses are available,” the district said.
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Although the state of Illinois has opened vaccine eligibility to anyone age 16 and older as of Monday, the city will not expand eligibility to that age group until April 19, meaning high school students who don’t have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk from COVID-19 will have to wait at least until in-person classes have begun to get an appointment for a vaccination.