As only 19% of students return while CPS is demanding 80 percent staffing of schools, rank and file educators scramble to access vaccines, while Lightfoot’s CPS execs refuse to agree to basic and enforceable safety standards.

CHICAGO, January 26, 2021—As mayor Lori Lightfoot’s CPS team refuses to offer vaccinations to educators before ordering them into school buildings, or a phased-in resumption of in-person learning, the Chicago Teachers Union is publicly calling for mediation to resolve the impasse.

The Union is seeking a health metric based on CDC guidance, a phased reopening, access to vaccinations for educators, and enforceable safety standards in school buildings, which have struggled to meet even basic needs for PPE, adequate ventilation and clean facilities.

As of today, a majority of Chicago’s public schools fall outside of the newly released Center for Disease Control guidelines. Currently, Chicago’s schools lack access to adequate testing and tracing programs, proper PPE, necessary room ventilation and sanitization, and priority vaccination of educators and school support staff.

“If solving the problem of how to reopen school buildings while ensuring the safety of educators, staff and students in the middle of a pandemic was easy, then CPS and CTU would have already done it,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “That’s why appointing a mediator is the right move, right now.”

CPS’s January 26 proposal, amid its unilateral order that teachers and staff return for in-person work as of January 4 and January 27, is both unsafe and unacceptable to the Union for the following principal reasons:

  • There is no mutually agreed upon metric on Covid-19 community transmission rates for reopening schools, while CPS defies the CDC health metric for reopening schools with lower risk:
  • CPS refuses to allow its staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 infection before ordering them to appear in-person, notwithstanding that vaccinations first became available for CPS staff as of January 25.
  • CPS refuses to allow telework accommodations to the vast majority of staff with household members who are high-risk individuals according to the CDC.
  • CPS refuses to provide weekly testing for staff and students inside CPS buildings, at least until they are fully vaccinated.
  • CPS still refuses to comply with the October 2, 2020, binding arbitration award to allow school clerks and technology coordinators to work remotely.

“We are willing to keep teaching, but CPS has said they will lock us out,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We are willing to keep negotiating, but CPS has refused to back down from insisting that 80% of educators and support staff return on February 1 to serve fewer than 20% of the students. Another 10,000 of our members became eligible for vaccinations on January 25.  We can make schools safe with a phased reopening and enhanced COVID-19 testing for members of school communities.  Parents have overwhelmingly rejected in-person learning under the current conditions. There are many options that we’ve proposed to staff classrooms where children are returning without putting every single member of the school community at increased risk — including thousands of educators with families at heightened risk from COVID.

“Is the mayor creating a crisis just to get her way on a reopening date that ignores the risks in our schools and our neighborhoods? We need a mediator to intervene and put our attempts to bargain a truly safe path to reopening back on track.”

The CTU also requested mediation in November. But CPS would only agree to mediation if the Union agreed first that CPS had no obligation to bargain, and that CPS would be allowed to unilaterally implement any next steps over Union objections.

“CPS has said they will only mediate if we consent that they can walk anytime they want and have no obligation to work out compromises,” said Sharkey. “We would hope that the leaders of our city could show more commitment to our educators, students and schools than that.”

Only 19% of eligible students returned to pre-K and special education cluster programs on January 11.

“It’s obvious to everyone but CPS and the mayor that parents aren’t sending their children back because they do not believe schools are safe or that COVID is under control,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. “This is especially true for Black and Brown families. CPS does not need 80 percent of educators back in school to serve 19 percent of students. This makes no sense in a pandemic that continues to infect one in eight people in many of the Black and Brown Chicago neighborhoods that have already shouldered a disproportionate burden of COVID disease and death. Our families want safety. Our educators want safety, yet CPS continues to refuse to negotiate an agreement that builds in that safety, and instead, has threatened to lock out tens of thousands of educators who have a right to safe workplaces to educate our schoolchildren.”

Teachers continue to teach, and want to continue to teach safely. The Union has proposed critical precautions necessary for a safe return to in-person learning — all of which have been rejected by the mayor’s hand-picked Board of Education.

“The failures of the previous administration have made contending with COVID vastly more challenging, so we welcome President Biden’s commitments to safety and following the science — and we urge Chicago’s mayor to take the same approach,” said Weingarten. “Thankfully, we know more about COVID today than at the onset of the pandemic. There are a range of tools at our disposal including testing, vaccines and reasonable accommodations for educators who need them. Trust is also crucial, but unfortunately that is in short supply in Chicago. For all these reasons a mediator will bring a fresh set of eyes to reach a solution that works for all.”

CPS has rejected landing a public health metric to determine when a school should open or close. CPS has rejected Union proposals to allow members who have medically vulnerable relatives at home to continue working remotely. They have rejected allowing teachers to return after they’ve been vaccinated, instead forcing unvaccinated workers back into unsafe buildings this week. And CPS has rejected increased and rigorous COVID testing for students and staff, a pillar in infectious disease mitigation.

“We want to return to safe, welcoming and thriving schools — and that can’t happen until we put the health and safety precautions of our educators, our students and the larger community ahead of the unreasonable demand to return to school buildings that lack the necessary protocols to keep us safe,” said Davis Gates. “Mediation will provide a fresh set of ears that can weigh all the concerns, hear all sides equally and provide an impartial review that will allow us to return to our school communities safely without unnecessarily risking the lives of educators, students or our vulnerable family members.”

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at