Chicago Teachers Union pushes back on in-person learning date and accuses mayor of trying to force a decision

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A powerful teachers union in Chicago is pushing back on a target day announced by the public school system to resume in-person classes for high school students, claiming that the mayor and school board are trying to box them into a start date.

Chicago Public Schools wants students to return to their schools at the start of the fourth quarter on April 19. But the Chicago Teachers Union claims there is no deal yet and that the announcement was made prematurely.

“Let me be clear: We have no agreement on returning to in-person learning in high schools on any date, nor will there be an agreement until we know our school buildings can reopen safely,” CTU president Jesse Sharkey said Tuesday in a written statement. “The CPS email is unfortunately more unilateralism from the mayor’s handpicked Board of Education – a way to publicly roll out a boilerplate plan created behind closed doors with no educator support, stakeholder engagement, parent input or student agency.”

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The union added that Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS “cannot set a date for return, then inevitably blame educators if any problems meeting that deadline arise. Instead, the district must work with parents, students, educators and all stakeholders in crafting a safe plan for high school return to in-person instruction. The mayor and CPS cannot publicly distort the state of our talks while also stonewalling in providing critical data that must guide any agreement.”

The tug-of-war between Chicago school officials and unions isn’t a one-off. Similar struggles are playing out across several cities in the United States, with parents pushing to return to in-school learning and influential teachers unions blocking the effort and often delaying reopenings. Many teachers in big cities like Chicago say they are reluctant to go back to their classrooms amid the pandemic and before everyone is vaccinated. They have pushed back on scientific research that shows in-person instruction can be done safely if precautions are taken.

Tuesday’s announcement by CPS on the tentative return date for high schools was made three days before the deadline for high school parents to choose between in-person or remote learning.

CPS and the CTU reached a deal in February for reopening elementary schools. Kindergarten through fifth-grade students whose families chose the in-person option returned to school on March 1. Sixth- through eighth-grade students returned on March 8.

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Since then, the two sides have formed a joint committee to tackle high school reopenings, but they haven’t reached a compromise.

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