CPS ‘firmly committed’ to reopening high schools next week despite CTU’s threat to stay remoteNader Issaon April 12, 2021 at 1:58 pm

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey  speaks to reporters outside the Thompson Center in March 2020.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

High school teachers and staff returned to in-person work Monday but could revert to remote teaching this week if a deal isn’t reached with CPS.

Chicago Public Schools officials say they are “firmly committed” to reopening high schools next week for the first time during the pandemic despite a plan by the Chicago Teachers Union to have high school teachers and staff work remotely Wednesday in an attempt to pressure the district into a reopening agreement.

The district has held “productive discussions with CTU leadership to ensure a smooth transition back for our students and staff,” and the two sides are working to reach an agreement “as soon as possible,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson and the district’s education chief, LaTanya McDade, wrote in a letter to high school families Monday.

“Over the weekend we made progress on a number of areas and have general alignment on topics including the scheduling models schools will use and safety protocols to keep students and staff safe in high school buildings,” they wrote.

“We have also agreed that high school staff will be able to work on Wednesdays, which is a remote day for all students, and we will work to support vaccinations for students when they are eligible and doses are available.”

The union’s House of Delegates, however, “told the leadership of the CTU in no uncertain terms that we’re not simply reopening schools without more progress at the bargaining table and without a return agreement in high schools,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey told reporters during a virtual news conference Monday.

CTU delegates voted Sunday evening for about 5,350 high school teachers and hundreds more staff to work remotely Wednesday if a reopening deal with CPS isn’t reached by then. CPS had directed those workers to return this week, and they’ll be in schools Monday and Tuesday. About 26,000 high school students are expected back next week. As of now, the collective action wouldn’t affect elementary schools, which have been open for over a month.

“We’re asking for some basic safeguards and some reassurances that we’re not pouring gasoline onto a fire, that we’re not making an unsafe situation worse,” Sharkey said.

“We expect to see progress at the table. … If we do not see that, the members of the CTU are not going back into buildings under those conditions.”

Asked if the potential walkout would extend past Wednesday, Sharkey said the union would hold another meeting this week to discuss the latest bargaining updates and figure out what to do moving forward.

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