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We met with Chicago Public Schools yesterday afternoon. Here is where we currently stand.

No compliance

CPS and the mayor are refusing to comply with an independent arbitrator’s decision that schools are unsafe, and that our clerks, clerk assistants and technology coordinators are allowed to work remotely. This is because complying would interfere with their plans to force approximately 5,000 educators and 22,000 students into unsafe school buildings next month.

This is important. The mayor is a lawyer. Press conferences aren’t just press conferences—they’re closing arguments. She understands that an arbitrator’s decision is binding. She knows that the arbitrator’s decision stops her plans to reopen school buildings until they are safe. This is why it has been nearly three weeks since the arbitrator’s order, and CPS has done nothing to comply with the order except for undermine it.

This is cynical, reckless and irresponsible.

We must support our clerks and tech coordinators in standing on their rights under the arbitrator’s order to perform all work remotely that can feasibly be performed remotely. CPS and the mayor have singled these positions out since the beginning of the school year, and have shown they are unconcerned with breaking the law, violating our members’ rights and putting us in danger. Their goal is to double down and do the same thing to special education teachers, Pre-K teachers, clinicians and specials teachers next.

No plan

CPS and the mayor have provided no detailed plan on how they intend to resume in-person instruction for the second quarter. CPS also has refused to commit to bargaining with our union over its decision on when and how to resume in-person instruction.

CPS admits that it has, however, emailed 5,000 of our members, inquiring about intent to return for in-person Q2 instruction. There are 423 Chicago public schools with either a Pre-K program, a special education cluster program or both.

No shame

The actions of CPS and the mayor described above are illegal, and our union will take legal action to oppose them. Our greatest strength, however, is in the resolve and unity of our members. Here are concrete expressions of solidarity that we all must take to protect our clerks and technology coordinators, our students and their families, our own families, and ourselves.

  1. Petition your principal and network chief to follow the arbitrator’s order and allow your clerks and tech coordinators to work remotely.
  2. Respond to the “intent to return” form sent by the district, selecting any option other than the first option (that you will return in-person without support).
  3. Speak with parents — particularly parents of Pre-K and special education students — and alert them to the fact that CPS will be sending them a survey that will make it sound like their only choices are to a) return their child to in-person instruction, or b) receive no services at all from CPS educators. Tell them this is a false choice, and that they should tell CPS they stand with our union in demanding a safe reopening plan when public health metrics permit, and an investment and commitment to improving remote learning in the meantime.

We’ve been pushing the mayor and CPS since March to treat our members and school communities with dignity and respect. Remember, it was the governor who closed our school buildings. We agreed with that decision. The mayor did not.

And now, after the mayor defends her decision to reopen bars and restaurants while telling Chicagoans not to see groups of family and friends at home, the governor is stating that there is extensive evidence proving that bars and restaurants where strangers gather are causing a significant spread of COVID-19.

Both the mayor and the governor have the authority to close school buildings, but it is our voice, power and solidarity that will lead them do that. This was true in March, true during last year’s strike and it is true now.

We need to be loud and clear about our stance. We are keeping our entire city safe. This is a moment of tremendous anxiety, but alongside the students and families we serve, we are all that we have. Be empowered. You have colleagues and Union siblings here to fight for you.