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CTU teachers and support staff, like students and parents, want return to in-person school, but only when reopening can be done with safety, equity and trust in CPS policies and practices. CPS’ current reopening plan fails every single one of those minimum standards. And it’s on us to force the mayor and CPS to do better.

What’s the problem with CPS’ COVID metrics?

CPS ditched its original public health metrics in November for a dishonest case number ‘doubling rate’ metric that no other school district in the nation uses – and still refuses to use a reasonable public health metric for opening schools. Instead, health commissioner Allison Arwady has simply parroted the mayor and CPS CEO on reopening, claiming that schools are safe to re-open even as the pandemic surges. Yet on Dec. 29, Arwady said ‘the city’s goal is to get under 400 new cases per day — but, ideally, Chicago should have fewer than 200 new cases per day’. That’s the same metric the Board adopted in July – but CPS is now rejecting that standard for educators. That’s wrong – and potentially deadly.

We don’t need hypocrisy and double standards. We need safety. The CTU is demanding that we reopen only if we are within safe levels of transmission – the very levels that Arwady has said are safe for all of Chicago and that the mayor’s hand-picked Board of Education agreed to in July.

What about safety on the jobsite?

Every worker has a right to a safe workplace – and the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. OSHA lays out that right clearly. The CTU will go to the wall to defend rank and file members who face discipline for refusing to work in-person in unsafe conditions. Sign our mass member letter to the mayor and CPS, saying we’ll return only when it’s safe.

Safety requires that all health protocols — mask wearing, social distancing, COVID testing, tracking and tracing, clean buildings, ventilation systems that can prevent the spread of the virus, access to vaccination and more — need to be working together to maximize safety.

But CPS has told its contractors not to test ventilation systems for their ability (or failure) to prevent spread of the virus — even as more than 700 workers in hundreds of buildings run by skeleton crews have tested positive for COVID-19 even before students return. And CPS — in an unprecedented refusal to follow a pillar of labor law — has refused to obey an October binding arbitration decision that workers should be allowed to do their jobs remotely until CPS can show that buildings are safe. That’s not good enough.

I hear some workers aren’t going back. Can’t I get fired if I refuse to work in unsafe conditions?

CPS CEO Janice Jackson has said that any worker who doesn’t report to buildings at the allotted time will be disciplined, up to and including firing. But Latino Youth workers have been working remotely for months over management’s objections – and getting paid – because they took strong collective action and stood together until management capitulated. The CTU will back any and all members threatened with discipline for refusing to work under unsafe conditions. We’re not saying this is without risk, and we’re saying that we only win if we do this together, in unity, and that every single member will get the Union’s full support in winning back pay and beating back discipline. We have the law and our contractual rights on our side – and our determination to stand together as a union, no matter what.

What about the vaccine? Aren’t we supposed to be in line?

Educators fall into the 1b category of vaccination – next in line after health care workers, who are being vaccinated right now. Arwady says vaccines for ‘essential workers’ like educators will likely be available in February. CPS could easily wait six weeks to ensure that workers returning to school buildings are vaccinated – but they refuse. That defies explanation, and it’s cruel – and dangerous.

But don’t parents want to return to schools?

CPS has claimed reopening is all about ‘equity’ for CPS’ Black and Brown children, who make up 90 percent of our students. But more than two-thirds of Black and Latinx parents have rejected in-person learning, opting instead to keep their children safely remote at least until spring, despite huge pressure from CPS to agree at least on paper to return sooner. CPS’ plan punishes remote learning students by slashing the attention they’ll receive from teachers, who’ll be forced into mostly-empty classrooms to teach in-person and remote simultaneously.

A number of Local School Councils have passed resolutions to prevent unsafe school reopenings, most recently at Monroe Elementary and Vaughn Occupational High School, which was the site of the first COVID-19 case in Chicago Public Schools in March. The CTU is demanding that, even if transmission levels are low, CPS should allow a proportionate number of teachers to provide remote instruction.

Don’t students need in-person learning?

CPS is not returning children to ‘normal’ in-person school. They’re trying to force educators to teach both remotely and in-person simultaneously to students who won’t be allowed to hug their teacher, play with their classmates, share a lunch table, or any of the other normal activities in COVID-free schools. In short, CPS is returning children to remote learning in person, in unsafe school buildings. They’re selling false promises to parents – and putting thousands of students, family members and the educators who serve them at risk.

What about more funding for the needs of our school communities during the pandemic?

CPS has failed to commit to spending any of the $800 million in new funds they’ve just been allocated from the federal government on social-emotional supports, a nurse in every school – during a pandemic – or building out better remote learning as the State Superintendent of Education has urged.

CPS says buildings are safe — so why does the Union disagree?

CPS has a long and troubling record of over-promising and under-delivering in areas from special education to keeping our schools clean. The CTU wants simple, enforceable guidelines to make sure that the district’s promises are being kept — including testing ventilation systems to make sure they can prevent the spread of COVID, and a sensible fast track to get members and families in our school communities vaccinated.

Take a stand with thousands of your fellow rank and file members.

Tell the mayor, CPS and your local elected officials that we need real investment to make remote learning better until our neighborhoods and our CPS families have a truly safe path back into our school buildings.

We deserve safety, equity and trust. We win these basic needs only if we stand together and fight in unity for what we need — and when we fight, we win.