If only CPS officials took the lead from their counterparts in Los Angeles, we could have a Hollywood ending, too.
Unlike CPS’ refusal to bargain with the CTU over remote learning or return to in-person school, our Union sisters and brothers in Los Angeles have been properly engaged by their school management. Maybe it’s because Los Angeles has an elected school board. Or, maybe, officials there realize you cannot run a school system without the workers.
Either way, I’m dreaming of California as our Union fights to ensure safety and equity for our members and students during the COVID crisis.
A product of actual negotiation, Los Angeles’ remote learning plan makes a lot more sense than the plan imposed on CPS educators. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) also reached an agreement on a package of safety protocols to pave the way for some in-person teaching.
For example, their virtual day goes from a more reasonable 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. It also gives educators and schools the autonomy to determine what ratio of online and offline time is developmentally appropriate.
UTLA members also get a one-time pandemic supply fund provision. The fund has minimal restrictions, while CPS restrictions are insane. The amount also is double what CTU members normally receive per our contract to prepare for remote learning. Lastly, the UTLA and the district regularly tweak the agreement to respond to new developments and concerns.
CPS insisted all through the fall that it would not bargain with CTU over a return to in-person school. Meanwhile, UTLA reached an agreement in October that covers adult education, in-person assessments and in-person tutoring. All are programs the union agrees require some in-person work. The agreement covers critical areas CPS refused to even address.
For example, participation by educators is voluntary. The agreement mandates six feet social distancing and daily sanitation of work spaces. CPS forced clerks, tech coordinators and other staff back to unsafe buildings in August. It wants to force pre-k and special ed teachers back to those same buildings beginning in early January — a date CPS has had to push back once already from November as the virus surges. CPS continues to refuse to bargain safety protocols.
Testing and tracing
All participating UTLA members and students must be tested and cleared before coming to school. Walk-up, on-site, COVID testing is also provided, with UTLA nurses participating on a voluntary basis. UTLA also has worked out a system for contact tracing of students and staff. CPS’ reopening “plan” does not require testing and potential contact tracing will be woefully insufficient.The UTLA agreement sets the conditions and metrics for an eventual physical return to school without setting an actual date to reopen. That’s similar to what New York City enacted. As we approach the second quarter of school, CTU members still have no idea what metrics will be used to reopen buildings here.
The Los Angeles agreement requires PPE, including face masks, shields (upon request), hand sanitizer and hand washing, and one-use supplies such as pencils. CPS claims it will provide proper safety equipment but has refused to sign a written agreement to that effect.
Get it in writing
The need to have safety protocols in writing — and not just in a press release — became even more apparent to me when I helped administer the PSAT at my school in September, an act of solidarity with colleagues who CPS required to work on-site. I also wanted to assess the conditions inside our schools.
Needless to say, there were problems. The test required the classroom door to be closed. No windows were open. This small detail is just one of hundreds of decision points that would need to be adjusted for school practices to reflect the best advice of public health experts.
Other questions arose. Do you let a student eat or drink in their classroom? Do you actually measure the six feet distance between desks rather than wing it? Do you sanitize your hands after handing out supplies to students? How and when do the students sanitize their hands?
The questions are numerous and the countless issues teachers and students have to navigate require a negotiated agreement with our Union. Anything less would make a return to in-person school unworkable, even if transmission rates decrease to acceptable levels.
Maybe, if we had an elected school board or, at a minimum, a willing partner on the other side of the table, we could have a Hollywood ending to our current fight with CPS. But with the mayor calling the shots, I’m not holding my breath.