We had another frustrating bargaining session with CPS today. The mayor’s team continues to drag its feet on critical components of the layered mitigation strategies we need to keep our members, students and school communities safe and, at this point, we are looking at returning to school buildings without a full safety agreement.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the last few weeks, we’ve been able to land agreements with several charter operators, including Acero, the second largest charter chain in the city and the largest charter chain CTU represents. We’ve reached charter agreements that include critical health metrics, a commitment to spend significant COVID relief dollars in the schools, limitations on simultaneous instruction and full-time nurses and social workers for students.

So, it can be done. But we need a willing partner at the table who truly understands the danger posed by the Delta variant and the risks our members and students face going back to school without a full-throttle safety agreement.

The challenge we face is that Delta is nearly as contagious as chicken pox but far more deadly and problematic from a public health perspective. In just the last week, the city saw an average of 400 new COVID cases, which was the metric last year to close schools. We’re blowing past that threshold now and on an upward trajectory.

We also know that our students experience serious disparities in vaccination rates — 40 percent of eligible white students have been fully vaccinated, while only 12 percent of eligible Black students have. That’s why we’re fighting so hard for a comprehensive, school-based vaccine program. It will save lives and allow students to return to school buildings safely for in-person instruction.

Today we did make some progress, with CPS acknowledging that the special relationship we have with our students can assist in getting shots into arms. The district has agreed to hold 125 school-based vaccine events before Oct. 6. That’s better than nothing but more needs to be done.

We also received some clarity today on the vaccine mandate CPS announced last week — in a press release, of course, not at the bargaining table. The district will make available a form to request vaccine exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

Please be advised, you will need a note from your physician indicating the specific reason for a medical exemption and a note from your clergy indicating the specific religious doctrine that exempts you from the vaccine. Staff with exemptions will be eligible to work but must submit to weekly COVID testing. Reach out to your field rep with questions.

Finally, after months of stalling, we learned today that CPS has hired a vendor to conduct its COVID testing program. But we have no details about its scope or the vendor’s ability to conduct a program of this magnitude.

We are still very concerned about CPS’ quarantine policy, with the district insisting that only unvaccinated students quarantine in the event of an outbreak. Such a protocol will lead to more simultaneous instruction, which we strongly oppose.

We are beginning to bargain daily, but members begin returning to buildings this week and we see no sense of urgency from the mayor or CPS. This version of our bargaining chart from last week is currently being updated, so watch your email for regular updates, and join us for an all-member Tele Town Hall on Sunday. More details to come.

Stay safe, stay together and stay strong — because that’s how we win.

Jesse Sharkey,
CTU President