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Mayor Lightfoot says a deal to restart Chicago schools could come today

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says a deal to reopen schools could come Monday night. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she’s hopeful a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union to restart classes could come as soon as the end of Monday. That’s according to an interview earlier this afternoon with ABC 7 News.

Students have been out of class since last Wednesday. A remaining sticking point appears to be what percentage of absent teachers and staff would prompt a school to flip to remote learning.

The mayor’s interview comes after Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey Monday morning said there’s been progress at the bargaining table, but charged that Lightfoot was holding up the return to classes.

At a press conference, a clearly frustrated Sharkey said the union had hit a “brick wall” with the mayor on the issue of what would trigger remote learning.

“The mayor is being relentless, but she’s being relentlessly stupid,” Sharkey said. “She’s being relentlessly stubborn. She’s relentlessly refusing to seek accommodation, and we’re trying to find a way to get people back from school.”

This is the latest salvo in an increasingly heated public fight between the mayor and the teachers union. Sharkey is usually the guy who holds his tongue.

In the interview with ABC, Lighfoot dismissed the comment, saying “If I had a dollar for every time some privileged, clouded white guy called me stupid. I’d be a bazillionaire.”

Sharkey early on Monday said the union had compromised on two key areas where the mayor was refusing to relent.

The mayor has been a hard “no” on allowing the entire school district to remote learning. She has also refused to budge on the CTU’s demand that all students be eligible for COVID-19 testing unless their parents opt them out. The mayor wants families to have to opt in.

Sharkey said “we’ve worked out” these two issues, without offering details.

But he said they’re stuck on when individual schools would revert to remote learning. It’s significant that Sharkey said individual schools and not all schools, which implies the union has dropped its demand for a metric triggering all schools to go remote. That’s something the mayor and CPS strongly oppose.

Also Monday, parents were demanding an end to the stalemate, with some calling for an immediate return to in-person learning while others pushed for remote learning.

At Rogers Elementary School, about 20 parents and students stood outside the school in protest, saying they wanted a return to in-person learning. They held signs that read “Schools are safe” and “Kids belong in class not on a computer.” Parents said their students were vaccinated, that their COVID-19 testing program worked and that they wanted them back in classrooms. CTU members also turned up to share information about what they want in a COVID-19 safety agreement.

“Schools are safe. It’s not been a significant place of COVID spread,” said Parent Annie Gill-Bloyer. “The protocols in place are good. They could be better. Yes, I think the CTU has some valid points, but shifting to remote is not something that Chicago parents are up for at this point.”

Meanwhile, during a Zoom press conference calling for a safe reopening of schools, parents and others argued in favor of a temporary pause in remote learning.

“My heart is truly heavy to know that our babies and our school staff’s life is being put in jeopardy,” said Wilma Pittman, a CPS parent and grandparent. “I think it’s better for parents to sit in the house with their children doing remote learning didn’t than to have to sit in the hospital for them.”