Chicago Public Schools is again delaying in-person learning as it continues to try to reach a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union over reopening.
The announcement Wednesday means that remote learning will continue for all students on Thursday. Friday was a previously scheduled day off for students. CPS had hoped to resume in-person learning for elementary students last Monday, but CTU members say they won’t return to schools without a reopening deal.
In a statement, CPS said it was “disappointed” to report that no deal has been reached. It said CPS is extending a cooling off period “for the final time” through the end of the day on Thursday to allow for further negotiations. CPS did not require staff to report to schools, as they had originally demanded. This removes the threat of the school district blocking teachers and staff from their virtual classroom. If CPS were to block staff, they could trigger a strike.
A strike would mean that all 280,000 students in district-run schools would have their education disrupted. Yet only 67,000 students at most are expected in schools for in-person instruction. Some 62,000 elementary students signed up to return and up to 5,000 preschoolers and special education students came back on Jan. 11. Those classes were halted last week after CTU members voted to work remotely until a deal was reached.
The CTU and CPS managed to reach a new agreement on testing protocols for students and teachers, but the remaining issues are some of the thorniest. The union told its members Wednesday night that the timeline for reopening still remains an issue. The school district is offering to step up vaccinations, and to allow some staff who have medical conditions or who live with someone who is medically compromised to get vaccinated before returning, according to the union.
But the union said the school district is demanding staff return right after the first shot or they would have to take an unpaid leave. However, their job would be waiting when they are ready to return. The vaccine offers protection after the first dose, but is not fully effective until a week or two after the second dose.
Another outstanding issue is a public health metric to determine reopening and closing again. The union’s current position is below a 5% positivity rate and no more than 20 new cases per 100,000 residents every 14 days. The union says this is the criteria suggested by the Centers for Disease Control for a low risk of school transmission.
The school district insists that a positivity rate is not recommended by public health experts, though some districts have one in place. The school district is currently proposing a 3% positivity rate from surveillance testing of CPS staff. Also, if an individual school has three unrelated positive cases in two weeks, operations would be suspending.
The union and school district have several other issues settled, including health and safety protocols, ventilation and a mechanism for enforcing protocols.
They also reached an agreement on testing, according to the union. The school district is agreeing to the following: testing of all symptomatic staff and students, testing for all employees and some students at the 134 schools in neighborhoods with high COVID-19 rates; testing half of all in-person staff each week; and testing available for all staff and students over age 10 before they return for in-person learning. As recently as last week, the school district was only offering to test a quarter of in-person staff each week and they did not have a proposal for student testing.