Your NPR news source

Chicago Public Schools classrooms have been closed since March. School leaders are planning to start bringing students back beginning in January.

Manuel Martinez

Labor Board Rejects Union Effort To Stop Chicago Public Schools From Reopening

Chicago Public Schools can move forward with plans to resume in-person classes next month without having to reach an agreement with its powerful teachers union.

That’s according to a state labor board. On Thursday morning, it rejected the Chicago Teachers Union’s bid to force the school district to make a deal with them before reopening schools. The 2-to-1 vote came after the board’s general counsel recommended it be rejected, noting that it is unclear whether the union has the right to bargain over these issues.

The school district immediately released a statement commending the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. “It’s time for the CTU to put students first and be supportive partners in the effort to safely reopen classrooms for the families who need us now more than ever,” CPS officials said in the statement.

The decision is a victory for the school district because working out a deal with a union would likely take weeks, if not months. It plans to bring preschool students and some special education students back to school buildings on Jan. 11 and then elementary school students back on Feb. 1.

The union has put out a list of demands that includes using a low positivity rate to determine if it is safe to return. It also wants higher standards set for air quality and ventilation in buildings and greater transparency on this issue.

The union did not immediately respond to the decision. But its leaders have noted that the court is one of many avenues they can pursue to get their demands met. They also can put political pressure on the school district and could coordinate a work stoppage of some type. In the past, the Chicago Teachers Union has undertaken strikes even as the school district contends they are illegal.

The other issue is that the vast majority of parents are not onboard with bringing their children back to schools. On Wednesday, the school district announced that 77,000, or about 37% of those invited, were expected to return to classes. CPS CEO Janice Jackson noted that it is more than the second biggest school district in the state and that the majority of students are Black or Latino.

But white students and higher income students are overrepresented in that 77,000. CTU President Jesse Sharkey pointed out that the students who will continue learning at home will suffer as their teachers try to teach both in class and remote students. He implored the school district not to go forward with a plan that will ultimately put the bulk of poor Black and Latino students at a disadvantage.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter@WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

The Latest
Next year’s spending plan includes saving $220 million through vacancies. The teacher’s union and some parents say it incentivizes the district to leave positions open.
The Northwestern employees were charged with obstructing police, months after the encampment came down. Now the cases have been dismissed.
Northwestern College and the American Academy of Art College shut down this month, leaving hundreds of students in the lurch.
The four Northwestern educators are charged with obstructing police during the protest. Those arrested questioned the timing, and the potential chilling effect on academic freedom.
School officials say separating students from their phones can help curb classroom distractions and cyberbullying.