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Chicago mayor: Schools will reopen despite balking teachers

January 30, 2021 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Public Schools plans to proceed with the reopening of elementary and middle schools on Monday despite the failure to reach an agreement with the teachers union, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday night.

School officials and the Chicago Teachers Union have been locked in negotiations for days in an attempt to reach an agreement to reopen schools closed in March to about 335,000 students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The teachers union has opposed the school district’s plan over fears for the health of its members.

“We wish we were here to announce that a deal has finally been struck. But sadly, another day has passed and the CTU has not agreed to anything,” Lightfoot said late Friday during a press conference.

Lightfoot added that the two sides have agreed on several issues. But union leaders are balking at putting certain points of agreement in writing so that the two sides can work on other issues they disagree on, she said.

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In-person classes were canceled this week for about 3,200 pre-K and special education students when teachers refused to work in classrooms. Officials say they expect those students to return to class on Monday.

“Those teachers need to be there,” for those students, Lightfoot said. If not, “we will take further action,” though she declined to elaborate.

The union is demanding phased-in return with voluntary vaccination, testing for students and staff and accommodations for teachers whose household members are at higher risk of COVID-19.

“The educators in the room were close to reaching an agreement. The boss stepped in at the 11th hour and blew it to pieces,” the union said in a statement. “We will continue working toward an agreement, but we need real progress in critical areas.”

Meanwhile, school officials argue remote learning isn’t working for all students, including many low-income and Black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. The district’s safety plan includes thousands of air purifiers, more cleaning and a voluntary testing program.

Union officials say returning to in-person instruction before its members are vaccinated and without other safeguards in place would put them at greater risk of contracting the virus. They argue that if the district tries to punish teachers for staying home Monday, then the district would be responsible for a work stoppage.

“We have a willing partner in the CPS bargaining team. But CPS needs a willing boss,” the union said.