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Teachers union says it has compromised but have “hit a brick wall” with the mayor

Chicago Teachers Union
The leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union discusses their latest COVID-19 safety plan on Saturday January 8, 2022. Sarah Karp / WBEZ

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

At a press conference, Sharkey 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’ve “hit a brick wall” over the last major sticking point. That’s the metric for 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.

“She’s relentlessly refusing to seek accommodation, and we’re trying to find a way to get people back from school,” Sharkey said. He initially said she was “relentlessly stupid,” but then quickly moved on.

When asked for a comment, the mayor’s office referred to a statement from the mayor and the schools CEO Sunday night: “Although we have been negotiating hard throughout the day, there has not been sufficient progress for us to predict a return to class tomorrow.”

CPS classes have been canceled since last Wednesday amid the standoff between the teachers union and the school district.

Also Monday morning, parents were demanding an end to the stalemate and a return to in-person learning.

They gathered at two Rogers Park elementary schools, in Little Village and at a school near Midway Airport.

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.

In Little Village, parents gathered at a church said they just wanted something — either remote or in-person. They said they’d prefer in-person classes but just wanted to get back to learning

An online petition supporting CPS’ decision not to revert to remote learning had about 5,200 signatures on Monday morning.

Mayor Lightfoot on Sunday said she was standing up for parents who want in-person learning.

“This is an untenable situation and completely, utterly avoidable,” Lightfoot said in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. “So I’m going to be on the side of the parents fighting every single day to get our kids back in school.