Chicago Teachers Union members have voted to authorize all rank-and-file educators in Chicago Public Schools to conduct remote work only, starting tomorrow, Jan. 25, 2021.
With 86 percent voter participation, 71 percent of voting members have spoken in favor of continued remote work tomorrow, the first day the Board of Education requires educators in kindergarten through eighth grade to appear in person. Students do not return until Feb. 1, 2021.
So what does this mean? It means the overwhelming majority of you have chosen safety. CPS did everything possible to divide us by instilling fear through threats of retaliation, but you still chose unity, solidarity and to collectively act as one.
The results of this vote show our collective power. Organizing works, and whatever we do, we must do together.
Tomorrow, we choose to work safely and remotely — together.
Bargaining continues today, where your action is producing some progress. We learned last week that only 19 percent of students eligible to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 11 have returned.
CPS wants to present to parents that in-person learning right now — before vaccination and with high community spread of COVID-19 — can look like it did before the pandemic. The district is demanding that 80 percent of educators need to return for less than 20 percent of students.
But the fact of the matter remains this: 19 percent of students have returned. The district doesn’t need anywhere near all of our membership to return to meet that need.
We have made major gains. Our pressure twice delayed opening last fall. CPS has clarified many building-level safety “expectations,” even though enforcement is uneven. The district has also granted more ADA accommodations — despite the flaws in that process — started a surveillance testing program for staff, and indicated it is willing to do the same for students. Without your advocacy, CPS would have never purchased the number of air purifiers that it has so far provided, despite their limited capacity.
CPS, however, refuses to move from its Feb. 1 reopening date for our students, and is staffing schools with the expectation that the entire student population will be returning to classrooms.
We know, however, that this is not the case. Again, only 19 percent of students eligible to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 11 have returned.
The district is so far unwilling to phase in or add capacity over time for in-person staff to get vaccinated, but it is our belief that vaccinations must be connected to staffing. More individuals receiving more COVID-19 vaccinations means more individuals who are comfortable about returning to classrooms. CPS is also still denying household accommodations, insisting that educators return to buildings even if that member has someone in their household whose underlying health condition puts them at risk of death if the member contracts COVID-19 and infects a loved one.
Finally, CPS refuses to adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metric for core indicators, which is 3-5 percent. But we need hard points to hit for opening schools, closing schools and staying safe, especially as our city reopens and President Biden says the COVID-19 pandemic will get worse before it gets better.
This is an unprecedented fight, but it’s a winnable fight if we stay united. Remember, we are not negotiating class size, benefits or staffing; we are bargaining for minimal risk of COVID-19 infection, and minimal risk of death.
We will continue to work remote so we can keep ourselves, our families and our school communities safe. If we are locked out by the mayor and CPS, then the choice to strike is theirs, not ours.
Remember, our fight is about a pandemic and making assurances for safety, and you have voted overwhelmingly in support of safety. There’s no doubt we all want to return to in-person instruction. The issue is CPS’ current unpreparedness for a return to in-person instruction, and the clear and present danger that poses to the health of our families and school communities.
The core of our fight remains the need for rules to maintain health and safety, committees to enforce those rules, voluntary staff return, testing for students and staff, and an agreed-upon health metric to go into effect should COVID-19 cases and positivity start to increase.
Please watch your email for more details and guidance for tomorrow, and information on our collective action this week while we continue to fight for a safe reopening plan. There has been some progress at the bargaining table since the State legislature voted to restore our bargaining rights, but our success in this moment hinges on our unity and our ability to take strong collective action to support our fight for a truly safe path — for everyone — back into our school buildings.