The Chicago Teacher’s Union voted on a partial reopening plan that will allow pre-K and special education students to return to the classroom starting Thursday. They will be followed by K-5 students on March 1 while 6-8 graders will report March 8.
High school students will have to wait for the vast majority of CTU teachers to be vaccinated before being allowed back in the classroom. No date has been set for their return.
The teachers are whining that they didn’t get everything they wanted.
“Let me be clear. This plan is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families,” Jesse Sharkey, the president of the union, said in a statement. “The fact that CPS could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparations in schools is a disgrace.”
The district spent $100 million on mitigation efforts, including purchasing thousands of air filters for classrooms. That’s $100 million they don’t have and aren’t likely to get from Washington.
Pre-K and special education teachers in Chicago had already returned for 3 weeks in January — before the union moved the goalposts on conditions for reopening, including vaccinations for which they weren’t even eligible to get before last week.
A joint statement issued Wednesday by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson said “the ratification of our agreement ensures families have options to choose in-person learning and make a plan that is best for them.”
“We look forward to welcoming students as they return to their classrooms in the days ahead,” it added. “This vote reaffirms the strength and fairness of our plan, which provides families and employees certainty about returning to schools and guarantees the best possible health and safety protocols.”
So the teachers win another one and are smart enough not to gloat about it. The worry is that this deal will be used as a template by other school districts around the country.
Chicago ceded significant ground to the union on a number of issues, perhaps most notably by delaying the reopening for most elementary students by a month or longer to allow more teachers and staff to get vaccinated. It also committed to weekly vaccine dose shipments, beefed up its school testing plan and gave schools more flexibility to accommodate employees who are not ready to return to school buildings.
The union made some concessions as well, backing off from a stance that all school staff are fully vaccinated before campuses reopen — a hard line some unions in California and elsewhere have continued to embrace.
Chicago teachers have pushed to the front of the vaccination line ahead of people who are far more vulnerable to serious illness and death. The fact is, public health officials, major studies on school reopenings, and many parents all say that it’s safe to reopen the schools as long as common sense precautions are taken. The teachers have no interest in science, in studies, what parents have to say, and especially common sense. They wanted a guarantee that their members wouldn’t get sick.
And they pretty much got it.