Mayor Lori Lightfoot has walked away from the bargaining table again after instructing her CPS leadership team to submit 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 our 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.
To say we’re deeply disappointed that the mayor has chosen to end negotiations and instead move to lock out educators and shut down schools rather than work out our differences is an understatement. We remain ready to bargain again today, and every day, until we land an agreement that allows us to reopen classrooms safely, with real equity for our students and school communities.
Unfortunately, this latest offer is instead a threat to cut all students off from schooling unless educators drop all remaining demands. The mayor outrageously asks teachers and support staff to choose between protecting their families and protecting their livelihoods, even as CPS leadership demands that educators and students return to classrooms before reaching an agreement that maximizes safety for every person who enters district buildings.
CPS could do so much better, but refuses.
District leadership forced back thousands of workers, including school clerks, clerk assistants and technology coordinators, on August 26. Many of those educators have been illegally forced to continue working under unsafe conditions in those buildings in defiance of an October 2 arbitration ruling that ordered them to work remotely until CPS could verify buildings were safe.
At least 850 workers in those buildings have already tested positive for COVID, with some teachers, clerks and security officers among those losing their battle with the virus.
The pandemic in our schools has only gotten worse since 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.”
This offer cannot stand. We remain fighting for an agreement that will provide maximum safety for our students, the educators who serve them, and every family in our school communities. Elected officials, civic leaders, grassroots allies, our parents and Chicagoans across the city are standing with us. They trust us. They know we’re right. Our task now is to keep maximum pressure on the mayor and CPS leadership, and stay strong.
Remember, we had virtually nothing on paper a month ago — no protections, no accountability, no enforceable safety guarantees, no equity, no safety and no trust. Only our fearless unity and our mighty solidarity has gotten us where we are today. Three times in the past week, the mayor has drawn a line in the sand, and three times, our solidarity and our commitment has forced her and CPS leadership to step over that line.
Stay strong. Stay united. Raise your fighting voices even louder. Watch for updates for weekend actions on Saturday and Sunday and stay the course. We remain remote until we land an agreement, because what we’re fighting for is right and necessary.
And when we fight, we win.