Chicago Schools Set to Open After Union Leaders Accept Deal
(Bloomberg) -- Chicago Public Schools are poised to reopen for students on Wednesday after the teachers’ union leadership voted to approve a deal with city officials to restart in-person classes in the nation’s third-largest school district.
Schools have been closed since Jan. 5 after Chicago teachers voted to shift back to remote learning, demanding that the district put in place more stringent protections amid a Covid-19 surge driven by the omicron variant. On Monday, the House of Delegates voted to suspend the union’s remote action, and the members must now ratify the agreement. The district said classes are canceled Tuesday but that the district’s 330,000 students can return on Wednesday.
“It’s meaningful that the House of Delegates voted to end the work stoppage,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a press conference on Monday. “And certainly my hope is that the rank and file teachers” will ratify the agreement, she said.
The agreement includes metrics on when a classroom or a school should go remote, enhances testing, which was a major sticking point for the union, and increases contact tracing, the union said Monday.
“I am not going to say anyone in our team feels this is a home run,” Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said during a separate press conference. He added that the deal moves the union toward as much as it could get for now and its members worked hard without pay.
The resolution comes after the Biden administration urged Lightfoot and the union to reach a deal amid his push to keep schools open across the country.
“The president’s been very clear, as we have been clear: We are on the side of schools being open,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier on Monday, when asked about the standoff in Chicago.
As Biden and many state and local officials resisted broad shutdowns, more than 5,400 schools had canceled class or switched to remote after the winter holidays because of the pandemic, according to the Burbio school tracker. The U.S. has about 100,000 public schools.
In Chicago, The teachers’ union had called for an expansion of testing amid a citywide positivity rate that has topped 20%, saying the city and district hadn’t done enough to provide testing and vaccination opportunities among other failures to prevent the spread of the virus.
The district had slammed the union’s decision to work remotely as an “illegal strike,” and Lightfoot repeatedly argued that the city’s schools are safe for children. She said she wanted to avoid the learning loss endured by students when the district was fully remote for months in the previous school year.
The Chicago fight marked the latest in a series of conflicts between the union, the schools and the mayor. In 2019, the union held its longest strike since 1987 to demand higher pay as well as more nurses and social workers in schools. After the winter break in early 2021, the union’s actions led to a delayed and phased-in return to school.
“I’m hopeful that this is the end, at least for this school year,” Lightfoot said, adding that the agreement takes the district through the end of summer school. “I’m hopeful that we will have a stable, uneventful rest of the school year.”
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.