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Over the last several weeks, we’ve tried to keep you updated via regular bargaining video updates from the team. Today, as we prepare for bargaining with CPS, we want to share where we are on several key items that we know you continue to have questions about, and that we, unfortunately, are still battling the district over.

In the most recent news, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request and found that at least 258 CPS and charter school employees or vendors have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, and eight have died. This came during remote learning. Imagine the numbers if parents and our union hadn’t pushed back against the hybrid model proposed by the mayor and CPS. This leads us to our first item: COVID-19 testing.

COVID-19 Testing

We continue to assert with CPS that it needs to bargain with us over a system for providing widespread and sample COVID-19 testing among students, staff and our members. We are deeply concerned about the number of positive COVID-19 cases that were identified among our school communities. As CPS forces—and attempts to force—more people into school buildings, we’re deeply concerned that positive cases and COVID-related deaths will rise.

We must not wait to create and to implement a plan for testing of CPS students and staff. We know CPS will likely start the pressure to resume more in-person learning—including their flawed hybrid plan—and we do not think it makes any sense to consider more in-person anything without a plan to test.

We see what is happening in other districts and states where cases are occurring in school buildings, which are having to close and return to a remote model. We know that other districts are negotiating with their unions to provide free testing to help determine when and if it is safe to do any in-person school—now or in the future.

We are frankly baffled as to why the CPS leadership would not want to work with us on a testing plan, and why they would continue to say that they are simply following Chicago Department of Public Health guidance on testing, and that means we don’t need a testing plan. 

We know that children and asymptomatic adults are contributing to the spread of COVID-19. We don’t think our school district should be satisfied with doing the bare minimum in a global pandemic to keep its people safe. We think CPS ought to easily be in agreement that we need a plan to provide widespread COVID-19 testing in order to have informed discussions about planning for the future, and to ensure we best able to keep our school communities safe.

Educator Cameras On During Instruction

All parties agree that, in order to connect during remote learning, by default educators should have their cameras on during instruction and interacting with students. We’re focused on making sure administrators don’t discipline members for needing to briefly turn their camera off. CPS has agreed that occasional infrequent interruptions that are unavoidable and that require the teacher to turn their camera off briefly will not lead to discipline

Recording of Instruction

We know that some administrators have told educators they should record everything, which is not appropriate. CPS’ initial position was that principals should have full discretion to direct teachers to record instruction, and the Union wanted teachers to have full discretion. We have nearly reached agreement that educators, at their own discretion, or, if directed by principals, should record synchronous instruction when they are delivering lessons (giving instructions, introducing or reviewing concepts) or when other instructional content would be useful for students who miss synchronous instruction to view. Educator and students’ 1:1 interactions should be recorded for everyone’s safety. 

Relatedly, CTU has requested and is still awaiting CPS to provide a list of all the data that the district is collecting from remote learning platforms that could be made publicly available, used for teacher feedback or utilized for disciplinary purposes. We are not comfortable with the level of surveillance possible during online work. CPS clearly limited use to Google to enable more tracking. CPS says that it does not plan to do surveillance sweeps, and will only dig into data if there is cause due to an investigation.

Proctoring Tests (SAT/ACT)

The SAT is a graduation requirement in Illinois under ISBE rules and CPS has insisted on meeting the requirement and offering tests in-person this month and next. We have recommended that they seek a waiver for this requirement as many colleges are not requiring the SAT, and we should be advocating for policy to accommodate safety and not allowing this test to hold students back. 

We know the testing dates are arriving, however. The CTU’s position is that since CPS is insisting on holding the SAT in person, all proctoring and other related assignments must be treated as voluntary only for our CTU members. CPS says it is asking teachers to volunteer if they choose, that it will allow substitutes to apply to be paid to work as a proctor and that it also wants to use “eligible non-teaching staff.” We have said, in no uncertain terms, that CTU members—especially our PSRPs, including clerks—should NOT be required to participate. Any role in helping with the test must be voluntary, and if any CTU member is pressured to volunteer, we need you to contact your CTU field representative immediately so we can raise this with CPS.

In bargaining, CPS owes us responses to our questions about the safety protocols that it has indicated it will put in place. We do not think it’s wise to have 50 students in the same space for a long duration of time, even if they are spaced six feet apart. Any test conditions should be in small groups, and there must be adequate PPE and ventilation.

We agree with the concerns we have heard from high school members and staff that CPS should be advocating for policy accommodations to meet students’ college application needs without requiring in-person testing. We support members who are questioning the wisdom of holding the test.

If you are interested in pushing back on the use of unreasonable standardized tests, and thinking about taking action around this SAT administration, consider joining the CTU Testing Committee. You can find the Committee application form at www.ctulocal1.org/committees.

Clerks and Tech Coordinators

We presented a second day of evidence and testimony yesterday in an arbitration trial that charges CPS with violating contractual health and safety provisions by forcing clerks and assistant clerks to work in-person under unsafe conditions.

The Union contends that CPS’ current requirement that clerks report to school for their full work day violates this health and safety guarantee. The district wants clerks in schools every day of the week, for the entire first academic quarter, despite all instruction being conducted remotely and regardless of whether their work duties could be completed remotely.

While we continue to pursue legal relief, we have also tried to move CPS at the bargaining table to end required in-person clerk and other staff work in schools. At the very least, we urge CPS to severely limit the time spent in-person to only the time necessary to complete duties that are urgent and that can only be performed in-person. We do not think there is a compelling reason to require any of our members to be in a school building every day of the week for the whole day.

CPS has said that, once the period of busiest student enrollment has passed (sometimes during the month of October), that it is willing to allow clerks to work remotely one day per week. We know that some schools have been able to move their enrollment practices online, and there are other accommodations like Google Voice, that can be made to allow clerk work to occur remotely. We still think that CPS needs to relent on forcing clerks and tech coordinators into the building. 

We continue to pursue the safest possible outcome for our clerks. We give a tremendous amount of appreciation to clerks who took the brave step of saying they would not report in-person. Please remember that if you have an ADA accommodation request pending, CPS will allow you to work remotely while the application is being reviewed. CPS also requires those who have a COVID-19 test result pending to also work remotely until test results are received.

We know that some schools, at least, are conducting enrollment and device distribution outside, weather permitting, so that the risk of virus spread is lessened. We encourage delegates and PPCs to take this up as an accommodation for now.

For anyone returning to school buildings, please remember to fill out the Unsafe Schools Conditions Reporting Form.

Clinicians

Last week, CPS indicated that it wants to institute a new plan concerning Occupational and Physical Therapy. The plan would allow parents to request in-person services with our OT/PT members. Our OT and PT members debunked the necessity and efficacy of this plan at the bargaining table. 

We have seen OTs and PTs positively utilize the remote learning period to develop relationships with parents, caregivers and families that they have never been able to have before. This means they are actually enlisting family members as partners and seeing results with their students. 

Many students would not be able to meet the safety accommodations required for in-person interactions. In addition, since the job of the OT/PT is to remove barriers to learning, their work right now is to help the students access remote learning. Logically, this work should happen remotely. We have yet to hear back from CPS about our feedback on their plan for OTs and PTs.

Members should contact CTU leadership, their field rep or their school organizer if they get any directive about reporting in-person to school for work. On that note, we received indication this week from at least one other clinician group, psychologists, that CPS is trying to push them to provide services in person. We’ve reached out to CPS for a response, since we have no agreement in place with CPS to allow that any clinicians be required to do in-person work. CPS must bargain with us as to whether there are any appropriate duties that are urgent, and that must be performed in-person at this time. 

Schedules/Waiver Votes

CPS suddenly wants to uphold our contract when it comes to imposing unreasonably long and onerous school schedules on our schools during remote learning. To be clear, the CTU has no intention to stop members, particularly at high schools, from changing their schedule to a model that better fits the remote context (like a block schedule). We have said to CPS that the model schedules available were not designed for remote learning, and we’d like to bargain about schedules that are more appropriate for remote learning. CPS should allow individual schools to change their schedules if the staff demonstrates, via a new vote, that it wants the schedule changed. 

CPS should allow this on a non-precedential basis for this specific year. In the future, when we are back full-time and safe in our buildings, we need the spring waiver votes respected and cannot allow administrators to reverse the will of the staff on a whim. But this is not a normal time. 

CPS is acting like it cares about truly respecting our contracts and enforcing the waiver votes taken in the spring to blame us for the unreasonable work schedule that they refused to bargain with us about. We proposed that CPS relax the school calendar to allow the year to begin with a “smart start” (modeled on the LAUSD-UTLA agreement). A smart start would have built in more time for professional development for educators, students, parents, caregivers and families to prepare by connecting online, receiving devices and focusing on building relationships to start the year. We hoped this could have included voluntary meetings in parks, on porches and include delivery of materials for students to use at home. CPS refused to bargain with us over this proposal.

The Union also proposed that we limit the “synchronous” screen time and make it more developmentally appropriate—for all students, but especially for our youngest students in Pre-K through 2nd grade. We proposed that CPS allow additional prep time (either daily, weekly or every other week of full days) so that educators could better prepare, assess what’s working, regroup and learn from one another so that remote learning would continue to improve. CPS refused on both accounts and insisted on six hours of instruction for most students with too much screen time and with no additional time for educators. But you can continue to support this proposal by signing this petition demanding flexible scheduling for K-4 and special education students from CPS. 

In short, when CPS blames us for schedules being overwhelming and inadequate, it is a lie. We are making every effort to bargain with CPS, and the district has refused to negotiate appropriate schedules for remote learning. 

If members at your school feel the need to vote for a schedule change that better fits remote learning:

  • Discuss any potential schedules at a union meeting in advance of any vote to identify any member concerns and gauge support for the proposal.
  • Bring the issue to your PPC and make sure administrators are not putting any undue pressure on staff.
  • Work to build unity around the desired schedule. To the extent possible, any vote to reconsider schedules should have overwhelming support and buy-in from your colleagues.
  • Make sure your vote is well documented. Keep records on the results and level of participation.
  • Clearly communicate to administrators, and include in the proposed schedule change that members vote on, that this is non-precedential and only applies to the 2020-21 school year to address the needs of remote learning.

Substitute Teachers

CPS refused to maintain this spring’s arrangement that provided substitute teachers weekly average pay. They said it wasn’t necessary because substitute teachers would be able to work this fall during remote learning.

Weeks ago, we requested CPS’ initial plan for how substitute teachers would engage in virtual classrooms and work. CPS did not share its plans until the week before student attendance. CPS says it has worked out the technology to allow substitute teachers to use Frontline to connect with Google Classrooms, and that they would communicate and provide training to substitute teachers. We have yet to hear back from CPS about when the training dates are (or were, at this point). We continue to press the district on this, as we want to help ensure substitute teachers can work.

We are also concerned that CPS is not centrally prioritizing the hiring of cadre subs. It claims that is because it is not receiving enough applications to join cadre, and that cadre are too expensive for principals to retain. This financial consideration is not what is best for our students. Even in a remote context, having an assigned cadre substitute teacher in a school where students get to know them is better for students.

Our CTU Substitute and Displaced Teacher Committee is planning a webinar soon to connect with our substitute teacher members to discuss next steps, get feedback and further shape our ongoing advocacy.

Also, make sure that you are documenting missed preps; you might want to set up a Google Doc for this purpose if you haven’t done so already. This will (1) help ensure that missed preps are either made up or paid out, and (2) help the Union document the need for more hiring of substitute teachers.

Veteran Pay

Please see the much longer email that we sent on this topic yesterday. We’ve been monitoring all the questions and concerns. We sent this to help members assess if their pay was in error, so we can continue to file grievances for corrections as needed.

As is sometimes the case with new contract wins, there have been hiccups with implementation. Calculating pay is complicated. Some members think their pay is in error and it is not. We’ve also caught some errors and filed grievances on them, and we will continue to do so.

We know that this is a source of frustration. it has been a source of frustration for us, too. As you know, CPS cuts the checks and we’ve all had our experiences with its payroll department.

Since the salary tables are now clear, we should be able to move forward with the increased pay rates once all errors have been identified and addressed. We will continue to work with members to ensure that your pay was issued and is correct.

Teacher Evaluation

We were able to bargain with CPS over teacher evaluation in the spring of SY 19-20 and come to agreements—mostly to put REACH on hold and carry over evaluation plans. CPS now wants to go back to regular REACH evaluation as if nothing has changed, believing that REACH evaluation is the only mechanism by which teachers will be motivated and be held accountable to do their best. We find this offensive! 

We know remote learning needs improvement and we’ve seen our teachers and other members work day and night to learn, improve and innovate how they are doing their work remotely. Educators are certainly not best motivated by a carrot and stick approach. That’s antiquated and limited thinking. That’s CPS. 

Evaluation is a mandatory subject of bargaining and we are bargaining with CPS. Our goal is to guard against the use of REACH or any other punitive evaluation that has not been vetted or is not appropriate for remote learning to judge and impact teachers’ careers when remote learning is meant to be temporary. We do not think we should be using REACH practices for any high stakes while we are not safe to be fully in person, which is the context for which the REACH evaluation system was designed.

We know administrators can observe us during remote learning. We know they want to give educators feedback and they 100 percent should be doing everything they can to support and help their teachers improve their remote instruction. 

CPS, again, is trying to impose a system on members that was not broadly designed for our current situation. In reality, it is concerned about an alleged small number of educators who may not be trying their very best to work right now. We think we ought to find other ways to address any such teachers, and focus broadly on providing systems of support this year. We can revisit returning to evaluation once it’s safe to return to regular in-person school, which is what our evaluation system was designed for. 

Supply Money

We know that, since the spring, CPS has continued to deny reasonable requests to reimburse for technology, hardware and additional internet costs that are 100% needed for remote learning. CPS also refused in the spring to grant a one-time increase in the amount of supply money.

Our new contract language already sets a precedent in terms of flexibility in the use of the $250 supply money. We assert that CPS must recognize this fact. In our new contract in Article 7-6, we won additional supply money language that educators “are presumed to be reasonable and will not be denied for reimbursement unless clearly outside of a reasonable classroom or school use consistent with Board policy.” It also says that “If certain categories of purchases are being denied for reimbursement, the BOARD and the UNION shall meet and discuss whether they are reasonable and, if determined to be reasonable, the BOARD shall authorize an expeditious reimbursement.”

We have requested multiple times that CPS approve the new categories of supply needs and we have filed a grievance on behalf of denials that occurred in the spring. CPS says it is going to follow up on this issue, and we look forward to our contract language being upheld. 

Members who continue to be denied reasonable reimbursement can still complete the survey provided in the spring at www.ctulocal1.org/denial. We also know that, according to the contract, CPS was supposed to have ready a process by which members could order items through their vendors directly (up to $250) so that there would be no need for a reimbursement process. This is something we will return to with CPS. 

Bereavement Leave

In the spring, on behalf of members who experienced losses, we negotiated special terms to try to accommodate members being able to attend services at a later date that normally would not be allowed due to the contractual time limits as to when leave can be taken. In our new contract, we won that members can take leave in two periods within the 30-day window, but in the spring, CPS agreed to a temporary additional extension due to COVID-19 making some services not possible to be held. The language agreed to in the spring was: 

For deaths occurring since March 17, 2020 and until the end of the period of CPS remote instruction, for which a bargaining unit employee may use bereavement leave under Article 33-4, the leave days may be taken non-consecutively in no more than two installments at any time until June 26, 2020. In administering this benefit, the Board may request a record of the date of death or the associated services. The parties agree that they will revisit and strongly consider extension of the deadline based on relevant changes to the school calendar and social norms related to safety and social distancing.

We have asked CPS to revisit this with us as we are receiving new requests from members who have services coming up for loved ones who passed away in the spring or summer, and they were not able to have services right away. Based on the past practice in the spring, whether language is negotiated to extend the spring arrangement or not, we believe CPS will work with individual members to accommodate their requests. Please reach out to your CTU field representative if you are denied a bereavement leave for a loved one’s services that were delayed.