With no agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and school district on the eve of the city’s biggest reopening push, officials issued an ultimatum Sunday: Teachers must report to work Monday or be locked out of critical technology platforms.
However, the Chicago Teachers Union and many of its members said they plan to work remotely on Monday, as they did last week in defiance of district orders to return to classrooms.
That makes Monday a pivotal day: If educators don’t report to work in-person and are locked out of their email and remote classrooms after work, the union said it would strike, throwing Chicago’s efforts to reopen schools to more students into disarray.
In the interim, Chicago Public Schools said it will shift reopening until Tuesday, when it expects pre-kindergarten through eighth graders and special education students who’ve selected in-person learning to be able to report to campuses.
In its first reopening push, Chicago Public Schools locked out about 100 teachers after it brought back about 3,200 pre-kindergarten and special education students and nearly 4,000 educators. Monday was supposed to bring the return of nearly 70,000 kindergarten through eighth graders.
School officials said they were disappointed to be facing a return to school without an agreement. “A deal is within reach,” said schools chief Janice Jackson. “I am incredibly frustrated, not just as the leader of this system but as a parent.”
The union and district still have a full work day to come to an agreement and avert a strike in the nation’s third largest school district, which would cancel school for 340,000 students.
The weekend brought twists and turns. Chicago’s visibly frustrated mayor, Lori Lightfoot, expressed dismay with the union leadership at a late Friday press conference, but her tone was more conciliatory Saturday, with reports that the two sides had reached four areas of tentative agreement.
By Sunday evening, the two sides were sparring on social media about a day of bargaining that didn’t happen.
Lightfoot said district negotiators were ready to spend the rest of the day, and all evening, at the bargaining table to make a deal happen and avoid disrupting school.
“We have been at the table, we have not left, and we will not leave,” said Lightfoot.
She said the union had refused to show up to negotiations Sunday: “We need the union at the table.”
Chicago Public Schools said it waited all day for a response from the union to its latest offer; the union said it was told to not send its team unless it was ready to make major concessions.
In a virtual press conference Sunday, the union said it was willing to continue bargaining, but that they were far from agreement on remote work accommodations for staff with high-risk family members and a vaccination schedule for teachers.
They’d consider some compromise on both, said union president Jesse Sharkey, but also needed some movement from the district. “You can’t open schools without teachers,” he said. The union’s attorney echoed the sentiment. “We aren’t going to tell our members to go back into school buildings without these conditions being met,” said attorney Thad Goodchild.
If the district moves to lock out educators tomorrow, union officials said they would call a meeting of their representative body to weigh next steps, including a strike.
While the majority of teachers had followed the union’s directive to work remotely in defiance of district orders last week, nearly 2,000 educators, or 16% of pre-K, cluster, and K-8 staff expected in school buildings reported to work in person last Friday.
In her comments Sunday, the mayor made a plea directly to educators. “Those who do not report to work, we’re going to have to take action,” she said. “Let’s get a deal done tonight.”
The dispute means families don’t know what school will look like this week. Lightfoot said families who need a place for students should bring them to the in-person learning hubs the district has run since the spring.
In an email to parents Sunday night, Jackson explained why the district would take disciplinary action against teachers who did not report to campuses as instructed — an action that would disrupt remote learning for students. “(It is) a situation we have been working night-and-day to avoid. We need CTU leadership to commit to working toward agreement so our teachers can return to work and prevent further disruption to student learning.”