Chicago teachers approve deal to end walkout over COVID safety protocols

Chicago teachers’ union members narrowly agreed to a safety agreement with Chicago Public Schools, ending a bitter dispute with Mayor Lori Lightfoot over COVID-19 safety protocols amid the city’s surge in Omicron and keeping students in classrooms for the foreseeable future.

The vote, which passed with 55.5% approval, came by an unusually close margin for the anti-terror unit, with students on Wednesday, in some cases returning to schools where dozens of teachers were out, leaving children reporting to the halls and sometimes taking online lessons with their teachers. Distance working. In all, just under 70% of union members voted, with 10,342 voting to accept the deal and 8,278 rejecting it.

At a Council of Delegates meeting Wednesday night, CTU leaders presented the deal to 600 school representatives as “more than nothing, but less than we wanted.” The virtual call showed teachers resented, at times yelled at, union officials for reaching an agreement—and selling it to their members—that they felt was inadequate for their safety demands. CTU President Jesse Sharkey redirected the blame to Lightfoot, who refused to budge on some of the union’s key requests, such as testing and the mechanics of stopping in-person school during the surge.

“This vote clearly demonstrates dissatisfaction with the president,” Sharkey said in a statement. “It is outrageous that teachers, school nurses, counselors and others had to endure a week of closure by the mayor just to get a commitment from its negotiating team to provide every student with an N95 mask in the event of a pandemic.

“Frankly, we have a president who doesn’t know how to negotiate, doesn’t know how to hear real concerns and isn’t willing to respect our rank and file enough to listen to us when we tell her we need more protection.”

Sharkey urged members to remain united and not let their differences last week rip union solidarity.

Pedro Martinez, CEO of Lightfoot and CPS, said they are “happy to have reached an agreement that ensures predictability and stability for the rest of the school year.”

“We all agree that the health and well-being of everyone in our school communities, including our children, families and staff, must be prioritized,” they said in a statement. “CPS principals will continue to work with school safety teams to make data-informed decisions in the best interests of students and families.”

The union pushed for a threshold of infections that would lead to system-wide school closures, as it was in place last year, but the district would not agree to that. CPS also did not approve the opt-out testing program, which would have enrolled all students for the COVID test unless a parent objected. The district also did not approve of distance learning this week as teachers had hoped.

But officials agreed to increase testing in all schools to at least 10% of their students. The district has committed to setting up phone banks where employees can help contact parents and ask for verbal consent for testing.

When it comes to closing individual schools, CPS has waived with the CTU and agreed to close a building for at least five days if 30% or more of its teachers are absent for two consecutive days due to positive cases or quarantine, and if the alternatives can’t get less absenteeism. than 25%. The school will also be closed if 40% of its students are in quarantine.

It has not been determined whether the lost days will be reimbursed at the end of the year – which means CTU members don’t know whether or not they will be paid for the lost days.

Earlier Wednesday, students returned to schools with a mixture of optimism and anxiety.

“I feel like everyone should go home and stay virtual because everyone in our building seems to be getting sick and getting sick,” said Trinity Washington high school student Roberto Clemente.

Washington, who has admitted that she did not always follow the school’s mask rules, said the vacation and recent stay for the school’s dean who was Placed on a respirator It made her change her ways.

“I was like, ‘Oh no, that’s dangerous,'” she said.

Fellow student Janie MacDonald said she was happy to be back. “I love being in school. It’s fun. I don’t want to go home all day.”

Both said they supported the actions of their mentors in the counter-terror unit.

Joshua Lopez, a senior, said he, too, supports his teachers.

“I’m a little worried because I and my family have had COVID before and a family member was in serious condition, so I’m going to support the teachers,” Lopez said. “But I don’t mind going back to school. I mean, I know it’s kind of dangerous too, but at least I can see my friends.”

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