Chicago pushes in-person classes back after failing to reach agreement with teachers

America's third-largest school district goes back to in-person learning tomorrow after rocky negotiations.

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The nation’s third-largest school district will return to in-person learning tomorrow after contentious negotiations between the city and the Chicago Teachers Union. 

According to a report from CNN, nearly 67,000 of the 355,000 enrolled students in the district had indicated that they want to return to in-person learning. Representatives from Chicago Public Schools have met with the teachers’ union “more than 70 times in an effort to reach an agreement that prevents disruption to student learning and provides families the option to safely return to classrooms.”

This shot from September 2020 shows Jasmine Gilliam (left) and Lucy Baldwin, teachers at King Elementary School, preparing to teach their students remotely in empty classrooms during fall’s first day of classes in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CTU had previously told its members to be prepared to strike if the district pushed for a return to classrooms without strict coronavirus protocols. Many teachers want to continue virtual learning. However, school officials said “teachers in pre-K through 8 and cluster classrooms who do not report to work in-person — and do not have a valid reason for their absence — will be considered absent without leave. On Tuesday, teachers who are absent without leave will not be authorized to support remote learning until they report in-person as required.”

That message has been pushed to a Tuesday start date from Monday, Feb. 1. 

The stalemate could result in 80 percent of Chicago Public School students being locked out of Google Suites, which is the district’s remote learning system. 

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CTU officials tweeted on Sunday: “Parents, city, mayor, Board of Ed…everyone is clear: Our members are prepared to keep working and negotiating. If there is a choice to end negotiations, cause a crisis, or cut off 80 percent of students in the city who have chosen remote learning, that choice won’t be ours.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said the district has “met or exceeded” the protocols put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the city’s schools. She also made clear the city is committed to finalizing a deal with the union, who she asked to commit to a “renewed sense of urgency.” 

“Like our officers, staff, members, students and families they serve, and our city at large, the mayor does want to reach an agreement. And she is willing to allow the process the time that is required to come to an agreement,” the CTU tweeted Sunday. 

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The union said this weekend it had reached tentative agreements with the district on four “key areas.” However, they have yet to agree on other significant points, such as access to vaccines. 

“What our members are asking for is right in line with what school districts are doing across the country. Our union has also successfully been able to reach agreements with our unionized charter schools. We want the same for our educators and students in Chicago Public Schools,” officials added

Janice Jackson, chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, told CNN’s Abby Philips they “think now is the time to see a return to in-person instruction for those families that wish to have that option. But we are also keeping the district open for remote for families who would like to remain in a remote environment as well.”

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