Lightfoot plan would only pause in-person learning district-wide only if there are COVID-19 outbreaks in 50 percent of CPS schools at the same time, while district health metric would continue in-person learning unless citywide positivity rate reaches 25 percent.
CHICAGO, Feb. 5, 2021 — Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership have walked away from the bargaining table again after submitting a “last, best and final offer” to the Union at 11:15 p.m. on Thursday night.
The mayor’s offer would pause in-person learning district-wide only if there are COVID-19 outbreaks in 50 percent of Chicago Public Schools buildings at the same time — meaning that
COVID-19 cases in more than 200 schools would not be cause to consider the reinstitution of remote learning in the view of the mayor or CPS leadership.
The mayor’s proposal denies remote work accommodations to 75 percent of educators with household members at high-risk for COVID-19, even though none of their students have opted for in-person learning.
As educators, school clerks and other CPS employees struggle to access COVID-19 vaccinations under the mayor’s “Hunger Games” system of vaccine distribution, CPS will only commit to vaccinate about 1,500 workers per week, giving no priority to staff expected to return first or those living or working in the hardest-hit communities — while refusing to increase its share of vaccine doses as City of Chicago supply increases.
Under that schedule, educators forced back into buildings could still be waiting until June for vaccinations through CPS, months after the mayor proposes to fully reopen school buildings.
CPS will not make any improvement in remote learning, despite four out of five students remaining remote, and despite months of pleas from parents and educators for a more enriching school day. CPS rejected proposed reduction in screen time for students, and refused additional technology supports to families, or allowing local schools any say in creating more humane schedules to meet student needs.
CPS also continues to reject landing a mutually agreed upon health metric based on CDC science, instead opting for its own metric, which is based on CPS-controlled ‘‘surveillance surveys” under which in-person learning would continue unless the citywide positivity rate reaches 25 percent.
The district refuses to bargain with the Union on the safe reopening of high schools, and continues its attempt to fire educators for speaking with parents about safety concerns. CPS leadership is still locking out dozens of educators who exercised their right to continue working safely and remotely instead of in unsafe workplaces — in some cases leaving students in need of special education services without a teacher for weeks.
“This is a pandemic, and that means our schools have to get every single mitigation protection right if we’re serious about keeping children and adults safe,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “We’re deeply disappointed that the mayor has chosen to stop negotiating and instead move to lock out educators and shut down schools rather than work out our differences.”
“Our stance hasn’t changed: We are willing to work and we are willing to negotiate the safest agreement for our students, their families and all stakeholders in our school communities,” he said.
Positive cases of COVID-19 are increasing in Chicago’s public schools since the mayor and CPS leadership began forcing Pre-K and special education cluster teachers back into buildings on Jan. 4, and after just 1 percent of the district’s total student population returned on Jan. 11. There have been 223 actionable COVID-19 cases in 150 CPS schools since Jan. 9 alone, even as the mayor and her team continue to characterize their reopening as “successful” and “safe.”
“CPS’ rejection of CDC health metrics fundamentally undercuts safety in school communities,” Sharkey said. “If they’re serious about the science, which says schools are safe only when they’re also getting mitigation right and community spread is low, then they need to stop rejecting the science-based metrics of the same agency they parrot at every turn.”
CPS leadership wants to use a 2.5 percent positivity threshold on surveillance testing inside of schools to trigger a meeting to decide whether additional mitigation measures or an operational pause would be considered. But data on this approach shows that its 2.5 percent measure equates to 25 percent positivity on citywide COVID-19 testing — and waiting to close by that point is far too late to protect school communities from COVID. Positivity on surveillance testing is always lower than the widely reported citywide positivity rate because people seek out testing when they are symptomatic or confront potential exposure.
Data from New York City schools, which conducts and publishes surveillance testing results, shows the relation between the two measures is a factor of 10. When NYC schools reported 0.54 percent surveillance positivity, over the same time period from Oct. 9 through today, the citywide positivity rate averaged 5.4 percent.
“Black and Brown communities continue to bear the brunt of this pandemic, which is why the overwhelming majority of families living in these communities chose to remain in remote learning,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “Chicago has been promised equity, and with the support of our members and the families they serve, we will remain at the bargaining table until we see something that looks like actual safety in a pandemic.”