“Challenging an arbitrator’s binding ruling does not get us where we need to be,” said CTU VP Stacy Davis Gates. “We have a long way to go and the clock is ticking.”

CHICAGO, Oct. 5, 2020—Chicago Teachers Union rank-and-file members called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools today to reverse course on unilaterally imposing working and learning conditions over the last seven months, and recognize and respect educators, parents and students as stakeholders. Today marks the 20th day of classes, and it is time for the mayor and the district to collaborate with the Union and CPS families on virtual learning and safety in schools, providing space for engagement around returning to buildings, and in the interim, making improvements to remote learning.

Friday morning, an arbitrator ruled in favor of a CTU grievance on behalf of school clerks, clerk assistants and technology coordinators who have flagged sweeping safety concerns in schools where staff has been forced to work in person. CPS subsequently ignored the arbitrator’s decision and in a move that is equal parts appalling and detrimental to the needs of our school communities, now plans to challenge the arbitrator’s ruling.

“We need collaboration, transparency and a sense of shared responsibility from CPS to jointly do what’s best for all of our school community members,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “Remote learning is not easy, and while our members have put a tremendous amount of work into making it better, CPS must stop ignoring what educators and parents are saying about how to make remote learning work more effectively.”

“We also need a plan from CPS that embraces contact tracing, testing and the proper infrastructure in our schools,” Vice President Davis Gates continued. “We’re also looking to the mayor to commit to more testing in hard-hit communities and more robust community mitigation plans, because challenging an arbitrator’s binding ruling does not get us where we need to be; we have a long way to go and the clock is ticking.”

Nearly 1,000 CTU members have been forced to work full-time in CPS buildings since late August, bringing the number of total staff on campuses to about 9,000—even as buildings remain closed. Many of those workers include female, Black and Brown heads of households working to support their families, who live and work in Chicago communities that are experiencing double-digit COVID-19 infection rates.

Even before CTU members were forced back into buildings, COVID-19 cases were rising throughout the district. CPS admitted in early September that the incidence of coronavirus cases had tripled since May. At least nine workers have died, including veteran Funston elementary school teacher Olga Quiroga on Oct. 1, who had been working intermittently at her school since late August.

The Union has documented grave safety problems in CPS school buildings, including widespread failures to enforce PPE or social distancing, and systemic problems with ventilation systems. Ventilation issues remain a major safety concern, since a growing body of scientific evidence shows that the COVID-19 virus can travel more than six feet, particularly in closed spaces that are poorly ventilated.

“Conditions in some schools are deplorable, particularly on the South and West sides,” said veteran Foreman High School clerk Sabrina Woods. “Why does CPS feel that our lives are not important? Where is the respect for hundreds of dedicated, hardworking school clerks? Where is the planning for real safety for our students and their families once we do return to buildings?”

CPS, which has never conducted a hazard assessment in buildings, told principals last week to begin preparing for a reopening plan this week that will include in-person learning—possibly as early as early November. Without enforced safety standards, more than 350,000 students and another 35,000 school workers could be at risk in CPS’ push to reopen.

“We are confronting a public health emergency, and you can’t work or learn if you’re dead,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at this morning’s press conference. “We all want to see students back in school buildings, and we want students and staff to be safe in those school buildings, but we need a plan with robust safety protections, which we simply don’t yet have from CPS.”

“Educators and families understand the challenges that remote learning poses,” President Sharkey continued. “Without the accountability that an elected, representative school board would provide, it’s incumbent on the mayor to make sure her CPS team at last begins to respect educators and families as stakeholders, and collaborate with us to land critical safety needs during the pandemic.”

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.