Chicago Public Schools is anticipating 83% of the expected teachers and staff to walk into schools this Monday to prepare for the return of the first wave of students the following week, the school district announced Tuesday. That’s more than 5,800 staff out of the 7,000 required to return.
About 29% of teachers and staff in this first group required to return applied to work from home or take a leave. Of those where decisions have been made, 42% were granted and 58% were denied, CPS said. All accommodation requests to work from home due to medical conditions were granted, CPS said.
Amid outcry from staff that it is not safe to return to schools, Chicago Public Schools officials have insisted that they have put protocols in place and that all staff must report to buildings.
The first wave of in-person learning is for preschoolers and students with moderate to severe disabilities in special education cluster programs.
CPS officials say they are working with those staff to make them feel more comfortable about returning. For example, some are being offered weekly COVID-19 tests.
Chief Talent Officer Matt Lyons points out that most employees did not ask to stay home. He said this speaks to the fact that “the plan we have built supports our employees and the needs of students.”
But Monday may also be a flashpoint between the Chicago Teachers Union and the school district. The union has been vehemently opposed to forcing staff back into buildings, especially as COVID-19 continues to spread at an alarming rate.
The union has a special emergency meeting scheduled on Wednesday where they may discuss ways they can protest this requirement.
Lyons would not directly answer the question of what will happen if staff simply refuse to show up.
“It’s important to know that there’s extensive data now, and experience that shows that schools can open safely and they’re not a significant source of spread of the virus,” he said. “We are doing more than many of the schools that are open. And so our hope is that the people who are supposed to be back on Monday are there on Monday.”
CPS CEO Janice Jackson has previously threatened to take action against any staff member who is expected to be in school but does not report. CPS data shows that 58% of staff who applied were denied an accommodation request. Another 43% had their request approved. About 15% are still pending.
In addition to being afraid to go back into schools, many teachers are questioning why they are being required to return, when most students are not. Overall, about 38% of preschool and cluster students are anticipated to come back to schools on January 11.
Some teachers have been told they must be in classes where there are few to no students. But Lyons said it is important to set up a structure for a larger scale resumption of in-person learning and therefore, even staff with few in person students, must be in schools.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that 42% of requests to work from home or take a leave were granted and 58% of staff who applied for an accommodation were denied.