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Our union fought for months to land enforceable safety guardrails, because we know they work to protect students and staff from COVID-19. Members began using our new safety agreement this week, and since it has gone into effect, we are seeing real results.

Educators have doubled the number of students registered for weekly surveillance testing, and safety committees are flipping individual school communities to remote learning due to too many positive COVID-19 cases. Most critically, rank-and-file members are using this agreement to take control of safety needs in their buildings.

Mayor Lightfoot’s CPS team is falling short on executing its end of the bargain by continuing its inability to meet the demand for weekly COVID-19 testing, and moving slow in providing daily data sets on COVID-19 cases and quarantine numbers for individual schools. Some cases are allegedly disappearing altogether, yet we forge ahead, and with this agreement, we are forcing greater safety despite CPS obstructionism.

Making it happen

Even with CPS’ questionable data practices, schools have already qualified to flip to remote learning under this new agreement. The Burnham Elementary safety committee, for example, voted unanimously to move to remote Thursday after the school hit 47 percent of students in isolation/quarantine. Parents and staff at the school had raised a flood of safety concerns amid COVID-19-driven disruption of student attendance and learning.

“In making this unilateral decision, our hope is to have all students and staff on the same page as we instruct remotely, just like we have spent hours and hours and millions of dollars in preparing and equipping ourselves to do,” a member wrote. “This is not a decision we made lightly, but [one we] fully believe is to the benefit of the health and academic growth of our students.”

There’s no place educators would rather be than in classrooms educating their students — except when there is simply too much COVID-19 in schools to safely work and learn in person. This agreement is at last a path to using the remote learning toolkit where necessary, as we move through the Omicron surge and the ongoing pandemic this academic year.

Contact tracing: needs and opportunities

Two key elements of this agreement are paid work for members: our ability to sign up students for testing with verbal consent of parents, and our ability to serve as contact tracers in our schools. One school where this is taking place is Park Manor Elementary, where 80 percent of families have consented to testing, and a vaccination event is scheduled for next week. We all already have plenty of work, but this testing and contact tracing work is our path to the truth about how much COVID-19 is in our schools, and how we can make sensible decisions about what we need to do to stay safe.

We’re not alone in raising concerns about CPS’ ongoing data dysfunction, as one professional data analyst (also a CPS parent) has detailed troubling discrepancies in CPS COVID-19 data. Some families are receiving contact tracing follow up days after quarantine periods have ended, while others are receiving emails about close contacts with no last date of contact. Our agreement’s flip-to-remote language is directly impacted by the daily data that CPS is delaying in providing, or incomplete in providing, so we continue to challenge the district in sharing this information in a timely and helpful manner.

Strong safety committees, safe schools

Active safety committees like those at Burnham are at the heart of safety enforcement under this agreement. Hundreds of members turned out this week for safety trainings that included some of the tools below to help members strengthen their enforcement efforts on the ground.

The Union continues to build out robust tools that include informational flyers, safety committee training information and more to help you take the reins of this process. More resources — including an updated FAQ — are in the works and will be available next week. Meanwhile, the resources below are a great place to learn what’s in the agreement that you can begin using today, and how to work with your colleagues to make the agreement increase safety in your school.

Help CTU staff help you

Who’s on your safety committee? To support your school, CTU staff needs to know who to contact. Please have your safety committee chair, your delegate or a concerned member at your school complete this form at ctulocal1.org/SCmembers.

Contact tracing, COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and other paid roles: We need information on the many members who have expressed interest in contact tracing, phone banking for COVID-19 testing and other new, paid roles to support safety in our schools. Please use the form below to let us know about the members at your school who are stepping up to fill these roles as we push CPS to operationalize this work.

New Safety Roles Report

Support from CTU field reps and organizers: It’s critical that members speak up if we’re to implement this agreement, and CTU staff are ready to back you up at every stage. Our district-level safety committee will take up any issue you cannot resolve at the school level, preferably within 24 hours. Field reps and organizers have been training on the details of the agreement and can answer your questions and have your back if your administrators don’t want to hear the truth about what your building needs.

Building safety through solidarity

Your action has made our schools safer, and your initiative and solidarity will make this new agreement work. Know that CTU officers and staff are prepared to support you as we all work together to continue to build safety through solidarity for our rank-and-file members and the students and families we support.