Teachers pull back curtain on remote classrooms, as CTU plans for Labor Board hearing on refusal of Mayor’s school board to bargain on strategies to safeguard workers.

  • 10:00 a.m., Wed., Sept. 9: Hearing, IL Educational Labor Relations Board
    Via Webex: link here.

CHICAGO—The CTU is preparing for arguments in its unfair labor practices complaint against CPS, scheduled for Wednesday, September 9 at 10:00 a.m. The CTU has charged CPS and the mayor’s hand-picked board of education with defying the Union’s right to bargain with CPS on issues that include safety. Instead, school executives unilaterally required school clerks and other CTU school staff to begin reporting to work in person beginning on August 26. Those clerks, who did their work remotely in the spring and the summer, have reported a myriad of problems in schools, from failure to ensure all personnel wear masks and practice safe social distancing to dirty, unkempt buildings and workspaces.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has agreed to expedite the CTU’s complaint, over CPS objections.

CPS’ refusal to bargain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of three Chicago public schoolteachers who invited reporters into their virtual classrooms early this morning, before the official start of the first day of the new school year. Those teachers are uniquely attuned to the needs of parents and families, since they are also parents of CPS students themselves. View their remarks at this link: https://youtu.be/x7attRIjvLo

Among educators’ hopes and concerns are breaking through the City’s pernicious digital divide, which locked thousands of Black and Brown students out of remote learning last spring.

Teachers spent the weekend and much of the summer getting ready to return to remote learning with students today, after an ultimately successful summer-long campaign to push CPS to abandon in-person learning as dangerous while COVID-19 continues to spread.

“I’m excited to begin the school year even though we’re starting remotely—and I’m ready!” said Nina Hike, a chemistry teacher at Westinghouse High School on Chicago’s West Side. “I’m really eager to work with students to connect the chemistry in their homes to chemistry in the classroom, but worry about internet access not just for students, but for teachers, because internet instability remains a problem. At the same time, our students are confronting two pandemics—COVID-19 and racism—so we’ll be navigating both of those together in these challenging times,” said Hike, who is Black.

Nightingale Elementary drama teacher Lauren Kullman echoed those hopes and concerns—even as students began to reach out to her during the press conference. “I’m eager to check in with our families, because I don’t know how they’re doing in terms of basic needs like food security, so my driving priority is making sure my kids and their families are OK and know that I’m there for them, even at seven in the morning!” said Kullman. “My school is in Gage Park, which has been hit hard by COVID, and I’m grateful we’re teaching remotely, because the challenges we’re confronting are nothing compared to what we’d be dealing with if we weren’t remote—especially given the problems we’re hearing about in schools right now.”

Ruiz Elementary special ed teacher Paula Barajas got emotional when talking about the challenges of getting ready for this school year. “It’s just been so frustrating dealing with CPS,” she said. “Like my fellow teachers, I’m so excited to be getting back into class with my students, but I want to say especially to parents that I know we have more questions than answers from CPS, and families need to know that teachers and staff are here for them. I know our educators and families are strong and resilient, and we’ll get through this together, despite the roadblocks CPS keeps throwing in our way.”

Educators have expressed frustrations for months with CPS’ adamant refusal to work collaboratively with the Union to make remote learning this fall as enriching and fulfilling as possible for students—or even agree to basic safety protocols in school buildings.

The mayor’s school board has refused to bargain with the Union on either safety or remote learning, despite guidance from ISBE to school districts that they bargain cooperatively on learning during the pandemic. CPS has instead simply imposed in-person schedules on a remote school day that looks and works wildly differently than in-person learning, particularly in terms of best practices and students’ developmental needs. CPS has also declined to embrace valuable lessons learned about remote learning over the last six months, and rejected collaborative models that the CTU has proposed to address family needs at a time when thousands of Chicago families are confronting economic hardship and the dangers of the virus.

Roughly one in five CPS students—particularly Black and Latinx students—lack access to broadband in their neighborhoods, which are also often the same neighborhoods that have been disproportionately hammered by COVID-19. Broadband access has also been a problem for teachers and support staff, while the Union has called on the mayor to treat broadband like a necessary public utility and enhance access for every Chicagoan. The union is also calling for vital supports for the city’s working class families, including the reinstatement of the federal guaranteed basic income of $600/week that expired earlier this summer.

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 www.ctulocal1.org.