At this week’s House of Delegates meeting, by a near unanimous vote, members passed a resolution calling for escalating actions to pressure Mayor Lightfoot to agree to a safety agreement. Given what we heard at the bargaining table yesterday — more of the same lies, dishonesty and, if you can believe it, more lack of concern for our members and our school communities — we believe united, city-wide action by our members is the only thing that will force her to relent.
Over the summer, CPS pledged to test 100 percent of students, but seven weeks into the school year, just 7 percent of students are paricipating in testing. Contrast that to Los Angeles, where the district is conducting 500,000 tests a week. Acero, where we have a safety agreement in place, is testing 80 percent of students a week.
We have a new CEO, who boasts about his 100 percent COVID testing success at his last job and promises to ramp up testing here. But he cannot quite say how or when. CDPH Director Dr. Awardy says she never agreed to that 100 percent goal and insists a 10 percent testing rate would be adequate.
But our fight is for much more than “adequate” safety. Our members, our students and our school communities deserve maximum safety and we won’t get there without a robust testing and vaccination plan.
It is abundantly clear that CPS deliberately created a cumbersome consent process, not for any legal reason, but because the district doesn’t actually want widespread testing to occur in CPS. We can see only two logical explanations for this type of sabotage. Either the mayor doesn’t want to spend the money on testing or she is afraid of the bad press from the inevitable COVID cases testing would reveal.
The first explanation makes no sense because CPS alone is sitting on $2 billion in COVID relief funds, allocated by the federal government for exactly this kind of expenditure. But the second explanation is even more troubling because the lack of a vigorous testing program endangers our members, our students and their families.
We already have lost two parents at Jensen Elementary to COVID, after their children were sent home because of COVID exposure. What will it take for the mayor to get serious about safety in our schools?
A robust testing program would provide trust and credibility that CPS direly needs right now and reassure school communities that their schools are safe. The mayor needs to commit real resources to testing instead of just lip service.
We did see some movement today on the staffing we have been demanding. We have been raising the alarm about the serious substitute shortage — a problem before the pandemic, but a crisis today. CPS informed us it will hire additional cadre subs for 39 schools that have a 10 percent or more teacher vacancy rate.
Additionally, the district said it is open to providing a $420 incentive for day-to-day subs who work more than 12 days a month. It’s a good start, but not nearly enough to address the serious lack of substitutes impacting all of our schools. And it does nothing to address the dire need for more nurses, social workers, counselors and librarians.
We remain clear on what is needed for us and the public to have confidence that our schools are being run safely:
- Student and staff COVID testing once a week
- Contact tracing within 48 hours
- Vaccination programs at a minimum of 100 schools per week
- Adequate staffing — especially nurses, social workers and substitute teachers
- Metrics for safety
On Oct. 15, we are calling for a Day of Action for Safety, Solidarity and Community. Join your colleagues for a walk-in, a mini-rally or a flyering event outside your school to reach out to parents. Use our newly updated flyer featuring the CTU’s top 5 demands for safety. Stay abreast of the issues with our updated bargaining chart. And don’t forget to wear your CTU red!
I’d also like to remind you that CPS is requiring all members to show proof of vaccination status by Oct. 15. This means you must begin the process of getting your COVID vaccine by that date or you will not be allowed to work in your school.
As a Union, we care deeply about your rights. We have members with legitimate medical and religious reasons for refusing the vaccine and we will defend and support them. But, remember, we fought hard for vaccinations as a key safety guardrail before we went back to our buildings last year and it is still a vital protection.
Obtaining a safety agreement is at the heart of our fight to keep our schools safe. But in terms of individual safety, the COVID vaccine is so important. I don’t want to attend any more members’ funerals.
Please stay safe, stay unified and join us in our Day of Action on Oct. 15. Together, we will win the safety our students, their families and our school communities need and deserve.