Chicago Public Schools Chief Janice Jackson is insisting that in-person classes will resume on Monday for tens of thousands of students, even as teachers and other staff refuse to work in person and there’s little pressure for them to change course.
“We expect students and staff to be in school on Monday,” Jackson said Thursday on WBEZ’s Reset. “That’s what we expect to happen.”
But some 85 percent of teachers required to report in person did not come on Wednesday — the first day of a Chicago Teachers Union’s action to resist working in buildings until there is a deal over reopening with the school district. This disrupted in-person classes already underway for about 3,200 preschool and special education students. Teachers continued to instruct remotely.
Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot had threatened to declare this action a strike, which would have meant canceling class for 280,000 students. But they have since backed away from that and, so far, are telling parents to keep their children home and allowing remote learning to continue. This takes pressure off the union to make a deal quickly.
“Without kids in buildings, no CTU member should feel pressured to return,” reads a letter sent by the CTU to its members.
The Chicago Teachers Union also is emboldened by a decision by a Cook County judge in another school district case. The judge on Wednesday rejected Cicero School District No. 99’s effort to declare a job action by teachers illegal and to order them into schools to work. Like Chicago teachers, Cicero teachers are refusing to work in person.
As of midday Thursday, the school district has yet to come to an agreement over reopening with the Chicago Teachers Union. Jackson said the school district is still awaiting the response of the union to a new “comprehensive” proposal released two days ago. However, in a statement after CPS released its proposal, the CTU called it “unsafe and unacceptable.”
“We’re prepared to compromise and give up on things that we were dug in on,” Jackson said. “But the one thing we all have to agree on is that students belong in school, and that every parent should have an option.”
The union is telling its members that some of the new proposals are wins. But they want the school district to push back the date for elementary students to return so more staff can get vaccinated first.
Jackson dismissed that idea. She said it has been proven that schools can open safely without everyone being vaccinated, pointing to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the city of Chicago.
“A vaccine is a phenomenal tool, and we are just as excited and enthusiastic about an additional tool being in place to help us,” she said.
Jackson touted the other tools, such as masks and social distancing, that the school district can use now to mitigate risk.
Even as the standoff continues, the school district announced Wednesday that about 62,000 elementary school students, or one-third of all K-8 students, are expected to return on Monday. Adding in preschool and special education students that are already back, about 67,000 total students say they are planning to return for in-person. That’s about 10,000 fewer students than had originally indicated plans to return in December.
There’s also a chance that more may change their minds. About half of the preschool and special education students whose parents had said they would attend in person actually came when the first wave of in-person learning began January 11. Of those 3,200 students, about 22% are white; 40% Latino and 32% are Black, according to CPS data released Wednesday. Among all students, 11% are white, 47% are Latino and 36% are Black.
Among staff, only about 15% of all teachers required to work in school buildings reported on Wednesday, according to CPS data. But among just preschool and special education teachers, who have teaching in person since Jan. 11, the attendance rate was 28%. The majority of paraprofessionals, or 68%, reported to school buildings.
Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.