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Talks ‘productive’ as Chicago families wait for school reopening news

People dressed in winter coats hold signs in front of a school building in Chicago.

A small group of parents and students hold homemade signs outside of New Field Elementary in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, as a stalemate that has closed most Chicago schools continues. New Field will be open to students throughout the week for enrichment activities.

Cassie Walker Burke

This is a developing story.

9:00 p.m. A deal in the works

Chicago Public Schools and its teachers union have agreed to restart in-person classes Wednesday after a tense standoff that canceled four days of classes for the vast majority of the district’s 330,000 students.

A tentative agreement that will bring teachers back to school Tuesday now goes to the rank and file for a vote. Read more here.

6:56 p.m. Talks ‘productive’

In a brief statement Monday night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Pedro Martinez said Monday negotiations were productive. 

“We are waiting to hear back from the CTU. We will update parents, students and members of the public as soon as we are as able,” they said in the statement.

The statement came as the Chicago Teachers Union convened a meeting with its delegates.

5:00 p.m. No decision on classes for Tuesday

As negotiations between the district and its teachers union stretch on, Chicago Public Schools said no decision had yet been made regarding classes Tuesday.

The district said in a tweet that it remained in negotiations and would provide an update as soon as possible.

The announcement came as some schools began notifying parents and students that classes would be canceled yet again on Tuesday.

Both Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the union have laid claims in recent days to safeguarding the interests of families. But some parents and students said Monday that neither the city nor the union have polled them, making it impossible to quantify where the majority of families stand. Read more here.

4:00 p.m. Some parents seek third party relief

As some Chicago schools started to send out cancellation notices for Tuesday, some parents turned to the state labor board for help.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board told Chalkbeat Chicago reporter Mila Koumpilova Monday that several Chicago parents have sent emails urging the board to act swiftly on dueling complaints the district and the Chicago Teachers Union filed last week. 

But the board may not be a source of quick relief. The Labor Relations Board could decide as early as later this week to dismiss the complaints or let them go forward. But even if it ultimately finds later this month that injunctive relief (such as requiring teachers to report in-person) is merited, a circuit court judge will need to sign off.

Judges are often unaccustomed to these cases and could take some time to rule. They might be reluctant to step in the middle of a labor dispute, a board spokesman said. “It’s usually better if the two sides settle their own disputes.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona spoke at an Indianapolis public high school on Monday about the importance of keeping schools open for in-person learning. Chalkbeat Indiana bureau chief Stephanie Wang followed up by email to ask if the federal government was involved behind the scenes to try to find resolution between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union.

A spokesperson said the department had been in contact with the district and the American Federation of Teachers, the national union to which CTU is a member, and was encouraging both sides to come to a resolution using federal stimulus money.

9:00 a.m. Advocacy efforts underway as standoff enters fourth day

As the standoff over Chicago Public Schools COVID protocols enters its fourth day of no classes, parents and community groups are gearing up to host a string of events Monday to call for an end to the impasse. 

The district and the Chicago Teachers Union continued talks until about 9:30 Sunday evening but were unable to arrive at an agreement. The district announced shortly before 8 p.m. that classes Monday would be canceled though some schools are working to set up enrichment programs and other activities for students this week. At an early Monday press conference, union leaders said the two sides remain far apart on key issues.

Union members voted last Tuesday evening to stop reporting to work in person until the district and union reach an agreement on stepped-up COVID safety measures or the omicron surge subsides. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and district officials, who have argued that a districtwide return to remote learning would unnecessarily disrupt learning, moved to cancel classes, blocking teachers’ access to their work emails and virtual classrooms. 

Talks between the district and union resumed at 10:30 this morning.

On a frigid morning, parents demanding a prompt return to in-person classes gathered at New Field Elementary in Rogers Park, Phillip Rogers Fine Arts, and Byrne Elementary in Oak Park. 

The nonprofit Kids First Chicago is scheduled to host a virtual meeting with parents at 11:30. A press release said the parents, whose children attend schools on the West and South sides, feel their perspectives have been overlooked in the debate.

Eight community groups, including the parent advocacy groups Raise Your Hand and Illinois Families for Public Schools, are planning to hold a virtual event at noon in support of a slate of demands titled “Trust, Learning, Care” that the groups first promoted last spring. Those include mandating weekly COVID testing for all students and staff, with the option for families to opt out, and hiring more mental health professionals and nurses.

The teachers union said educators would fan out in neighborhoods across the city today to canvass families. Car caravans would then head downtown, where they would converge on City Hall at noon. 

At a Monday morning press conference outside Spry Elementary in Little Village, Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey said that bargaining had reached a “serious” phase — “that’s good news,” he said — but key points of disagreement remained, including a metric for closing schools when COVID rates spike. Teachers said some classrooms at the school had been flipped to remote before winter break, and that attendance had been high.

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