As tension between Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) continues to mount, the union president has had harsh words about Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handling of the situation.
In a press conference on Monday, CTU president Jesse Sharkey accused the mayor of refusing to consider compromising top teachers’ priorities. He also said negotiations were in their infancy as representatives from CTU and CPS “remain separated on a number of key features” before teachers resume in-person learning.
“The mayor is relentless, but she is relentlessly stupid, she is relentlessly stubborn,” Sharkey told reporters. “She relentlessly refuses to look for accommodation and we are trying to find a way to get people back to school.”
The comment contradicts Lightfoot’s continued claims that CTU has abandoned students by refusing to teach classes in person. Last week, CTU voted with 73% to return to distance learning amid accusations the CPS was not doing enough to protect students and teachers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a separate statement posted on its website, CTU proposed that CPC implement a new drug testing program for all of its schools. If implemented, students could opt out of in-person learning for COVID-19 issues. Another proposal concerns potential epidemics in schools.
“If more than 25% of staff are absent due to COVID-19, individual schools would revert to temporary virtual learning,” the union said. “Individual schools would also pause in-person learning when 30% or more of elementary students and more than 25% of high school students are released with COVID-19. “
Classes were canceled Monday for a fourth day.
The union wants the option to return to distance education in the 350,000 student district, and most members have refused to teach in person until there is an agreement or the last spike. COVID-19 is easing. But Chicago leaders reject district-wide distance learning, saying it’s detrimental to students and schools are safe. Instead, Chicago chose to cancel classes two days after the students returned from winter vacation.
Chicago shares concerns about the pandemic with other districts across the country, with more use of distance learning as infections soar and staff are sidelined. But the situation in the union-friendly city of Chicago escalated amid a labor dispute well known to mostly low-income black and Latino families that saw disruption in a similar fight. on safety protocol last year, a 2019 strike and a day’s work. shutdown in 2016.
Cheri Warner joined other parents at a news event Monday calling on the district and teachers to focus on getting students back to classrooms. The mother of 15-year-old twins said the sudden loss of in-person learning had taken its toll on her family.
One of her daughters suffers from depression and anxiety, and winter is always a difficult time. Losing touch with friends and teachers only adds to that burden, Warner said.
The girls “missed their entire eighth grade and I felt like they weren’t really prepared for high school,” Warner said. “They’re all trying to find a way to catch up and it’s a really stressful situation.”
The tone of the statement by Lightfoot and PSC CEO Pedro Martinez on Sunday evening suggested more progress than on Saturday when, shortly after the union made its latest offer public, they said: “The leadership of the CTU, you don’t listen, “and vowed not” to relent. “The offer she rejected included teachers heading to schools on Monday to hand out laptops for distance learning to begin with. temporarily Wednesday.
The two sides filed complaints with a state labor commission.
Union leaders have accused Lightfoot of intimidation, saying that while face-to-face instruction is better, the pandemic has forced tough decisions.
“The mayor says she is going to pursue a case relentlessly, but the mayor is not a prosecutor and I am not a prosecuted criminal,” said Sharkey. “Our members are not people who have done something wrong.”
Attendance was down before the cancellations due to the quarantine of students and teachers due to possible exposure and families choosing to keep their children at home. All buildings remained open for the collection of meals.
School leaders have touted a $ 100 million safety plan, which includes air purifiers in every classroom. About 91% of staff are vaccinated and masks are mandatory indoors.
Since the start of the school year, some individual classes have temporarily switched to distance learning in the event of infection. But rejecting a large-scale return to distance learning, city health officials argue that most students headed into quarantine due to possible classroom exposure do not get COVID-19 . The district is piloting a “test-to-stay” program to reduce isolation times.
The union argues that the measures are insufficient, especially given the push fueled by the omicron that has shaken the return to work and classroom. He also criticized the district for not enrolling enough students in a testing program and an unreliable database on COVID-19 infections.
Several families in the district, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures last week, while more than 5,000 others signed a petition calling for a return to trial in anybody.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.