Officers and high school rank-and-file bargaining team members held a bargaining update over Facebook Live this afternoon. You can watch the video update here. You can read an overview below.
Overall, we are concerned about the spread of the virus. That’s especially true as we see both a surge and the emergence around the country of tough new strains. In places like Michigan and Minnesota, we’ve seen district and health leaders change their minds about opening up high schools as a result of these new developments. For these reasons and for the sake of time for real negotiation, we believe the April 19 start date that CPS keeps pushing is unwise. We believe at least another week longer is necessary.
We got the first written proposal for high school reopening from CPS just before spring break. We negotiated over break and continue negotiating. There are four major issues we’re pushing on at the table:
- Attendance Models
- Remote Work
- Student Vaccinations
Recording Secretary Christel Williams-Hayes also noted that principals are increasingly assigning duties to the “miscellaneous workers” that ought to be performed by CTU members. CPS finally acknowledged school understaffing by hiring these new workers (at lower wages and without overtime or adequate benefits). Yet, they are undermining our long-term staffing and hard-won rights with these inappropriate assignments. These workers deserve a union, too, and our students deserve highly qualified union staff to serve them.
We want to remind members that we will be answering questions this Thursday at 6:00 PM. Members should also promote the Trust, Learning Care forum our community partners have organized, which has been rescheduled to Friday, April 16 at 10:30 AM. Promotional images can be found on the CTU website event page and the Raise Your Hand facebook page. Members should also anticipate school meetings around reopening both for high schools this spring and for conditions this upcoming school year. Like before, as we negotiated this year’s return of K–8 staff, if we have no safe reopening agreement we will need to take escalating actions.
Student Attendance Models
The biggest issue in negotiations is scheduling. CPS provided three models for student attendance: Model 1 (4 days/wk), Model 2 (2 days/wk) and Model 3 (1 day/wk). CPS claims most schools will follow Models 1 or 2, but is allowing principals oversized authority to make that decision. CTU members via safety committees must have input. Surge not withstanding, we think erring on the side of fewer days is safer so we can gradually see what works. CPS has said no school will meet the criteria for Model 3 but it’s clear to us that some large schools with high opt-in rates and space challenges will need Model 3. As usual, CPS avoided sharing clear criteria for the decision particularly around space in school buildings. Eden McCauslin, Social Studies Teacher and associate school delegate at Taft HS shared her frustration at CPS’ dangerous bent. “This is not a robust plan at all,” she said. “There’s a surge and we need to be smart about what model we’re using for our students who are currently unvaccinated.”
Wednesday schedules and days where teachers and clinicians do not have in-person student attendance are both areas we are pushing at the table. K–8 teachers should be allowed to work remotely on Wednesdays, when students aren’t scheduled. “This is something that should be easy for CPS to agree with,” said Ashley Kiddle, English Teacher at Clemente HS. She also made clear how nonsensical it is for CPS to insist educators add their bodies to school buildings when none of their students are scheduled for in-person attendance. If there is a specific activity planned where educators agree they should be there, high school educators can show up for that. Just having teachers and PSRPs in the building “on principle” foolishly contributes to the possibility of spread. Flexibility and reducing contacts should be guiding this policy.
We have continued to insist that members deserve accommodations to support family situations. This doesn’t only include the obvious situations in which a household member is at high medical risk. CTU members are parents, too. The pandemic is still creating child care issues and other crucial situations where a member may be forced to choose between work and safety. Members who have applied for accommodations should hear from CPS soon, if they haven’t already. If you do not get a reply to your accommodation this week, you should contact your field rep. CPS has confirmed that pregnant and nursing members who requested accommodations should be receiving approval, but CPS is indicating reticence around other circumstances.
Mary Rose O’Shea, English teacher and associate school delegate at Mather HS, related the plight of one Mather colleague. This teacher applied for their children to return to school four days per week. The school, however, is already at 95 percent capacity, so that may not be possible. Both parents are CPS employees and haven’t yet heard from CPS about their accommodations. O’Shea emphasized that “Grace, flexibility and understanding” have been “the theme of these ‘trying times,’” but CPS is failing to follow those watchwords.
If there is any issue that should be a “no-brainer” it’s student and family vaccination. CPS, however, has indicated that individual school principals should leverage their existing partnerships to figure out their own plans to help vaccinate eligible CPS high school students and CPS family members, rather than collaborate on a centralized citywide plan to make vaccination available. Why can’t CPS convert the 4 sites they opened for staff to vaccinate students and family members? Why can’t federal dollars be used to hire community members to knock on doors to help connect students and families with vaccine appointments? CTU members could volunteer to take paid days to assist as we have the relationships with our students and families. It’s incumbent on CPS to lead on this especially with an eye toward next school year.
Mueze Bawany, English and History teacher at Clemente HS, laid out the benefits of making schools available as vaccination centers for students and their communities. He noted that pandemic inequity is exacerbated when some school communities can count on parent fundraising to fill the resource gaps while others cannot. “This is not an ‘us against them’ situation, this is a public health situation.” We have a huge opportunity to work together and make a big win for communities by making schools safe spaces for families and students to seek medical support. CPS has yet to agree to this demand, which members have told CTU is a high priority for them. We are seeing epidemiologists today who previously advocated for openings stepping back and recognizing that young people are a vector for spread. “It’s a common sense issue for the Board and we need to do something with that.”
CPS wants staff in buildings next week and to bring students back on April 19. CTU is calling for the return dates to be pushed back at least one week because of the current COVID case surge in the city and because further bargaining is needed. President Sharkey pointed out that, the Memorandum of Agreement we reached prior to K–8 return, established three criteria to shut down schools. Currently, two out of those three have materialized. We are seeing a surge among young people that experts say will crest soon. CPS must reconsider their arbitrary start date because there are danger signs on the horizon and even a one-week delay could make a difference in relation to the surge.
We are in continuous bargaining with CPS and we’ll keep you updated as they progress. Tomorrow is the House of Delegates meeting, where we will discuss bargaining further with school and functional group delegates. Members should expect delegates to convene school meetings to discuss the state of bargaining — at all schools, but especially at high schools. All members should plan to attend the online meeting this Thursday at 6:00 PM.
We are also working with community partners to promote what our schools need as we cope with the pandemic and as we come out of this crisis into what could potentially be a new day for our schools. Members should promote the Trust, Learning Care forum our community partners have organized, which has been rescheduled to Friday, April 16 at 10:30 AM. Promotional images can be found on the CTU website event page and the Raise Your Hand Facebook page.
Members should also anticipate school meetings around reopening both for high schools this spring and for conditions this upcoming school year. Like before, as we negotiated this year’s return of K–8 staff, if we have no safe reopening agreement we will need to take escalating actions.