Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says city officials have reached a tentative agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union, paving the way for some Chicago Public Schools students to return to in-person learning over the next several weeks.
The plan still needs to be ratified by the CTU’s house of delegates, officials acknowledged in a news conference Sunday. The union, prior to the news conference, said it did “not yet have an agreement” with city officials, indicating it would continue discussions with its rank-and-file members throughout Sunday.
“We are here to announce the very good news that our children will be returning to in-person learning this week,” Lightfoot said in a news conference Sunday.
“This agreement was about making sure everyone in our school communities just aren’t safe, but also that they feel safe,” Lightfoot said, “And feel that their lived experiences and fears and frustrations have been heard.”
Officials for the city and the nation’s third largest school district have been at odds with the teachers union over Covid-19 reopening plans. Mayor Lightfoot and CPS officials, including CEO Janice Jackson, have said in-person learning is safe with Covid-19 mitigation strategies. But the CTU had maintained teachers and students remained at risk if they return to the classroom too soon.
Following the news conference, CTU reiterated: “There is no agreement yet between the Union and the Board of Education. What we have is a framework that all of our members must first review and assess, because it is our members who are being asked to return to school buildings in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Proposed plan includes phased return
Jackson said a phased return to in-person learning would begin this week pending the ratification of the agreement by the union’s house of delegates.
Under the proposed framework, students in pre-K and cluster programs would return Thursday, with K-8th grade teachers and students returning in phases over the next few weeks.
K-5th grade staff would return on February 22, Jackson said, with students returning a week later on March 1. Sixth through 8th grade staff would return on March 1, with students returning March 8.
In addition to traditional Covid-19 mitigation strategies, Jackson said staff who live in medically vulnerable homes will be offered Covid-19 vaccinations beginning this week. Moving forward, CPS will aim to vaccinate 1,500 CPS employees each week at its own vaccination sites.
The tentative plan also includes agreed-upon metrics for returning the entire school district back to online learning, Jackson said. “We will be prepared to do that should the criteria be met throughout this pandemic.”
Asked by a reporter Sunday if she was speaking too soon, Lightfoot said no.
“We understand the house of delegates has the right to say yes or say no,” she said. But officials wanted to update parents with a preview of the plan, “with the caveat that it is subject to ratification” by the union’s delegates, she said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated teachers in the 1b priority category for vaccinations; and while that means in many states they are not yet eligible to be inoculated, the agency’s director says that does not mean students can’t go back safely.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House news briefing on Wednesday. “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”