I continue to be humbled and amazed at the sacrifice, creativity and commitment of our members as educators, rank-and-file unionists and advocates for your students and schools.
Tomorrow is a historic day as our buildings reopen to all. For 16 months, we have experienced uncertainty, fear, triumph and tragedy, and through it all, Chicago public school teachers, PSRPs, counselors, clinicians, librarians and case managers persevered for students and school communities. We are now called upon to model the leadership, guidance and support that our children and their families need.
I’m extremely proud of you all, and proud to lead this union through uncharted waters. It may not feel like it at times, but trust me, we are stronger now than we’ve ever been.
Provide grace to your students, their families and your colleagues. Pack your patience, because you will need it! Most importantly, provide grace for yourself, because you have carried so much on your shoulders since that day in early March of 2020, when educators at Vaughn Occupational High School were the first in our union to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We bargained with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s CPS team this afternoon, and while there’s been some progress, we still have no agreement. The district has, however, sent counter proposals that include PSRP staffing. As a direct result of our advocacy, CPS says it will add 150 to 185 school assistants.
We’re glad to have more supportive adults in our buildings, but this latest proposal leaves our most disadvantaged and under-resourced schools in the lurch. CPS will send staff to schools with higher enrollment, while smaller schools on the South and West sides will get only a paltry stipend, not an extra set of caring hands.
The mayor’s CPS team also has yet to lay out a concrete COVID testing program. CPS says there are 236 students and 81 staff members are currently in self-reported COVID-19 quarantine, with no baseline virus testing and testing at some schools possibly starting later this week.
Social distancing in many classrooms tomorrow is going to be a crapshoot. We’ve all seen dozens of examples of students sitting shoulder to shoulder. CPS insists that students and staff do not need temperature checks or health screenings. A bus service issue has left 2,100 students — including 990 special education students — without transportation tomorrow.
In a nutshell, no matter how hard they try and sell us otherwise, CPS is a mess and the mayor’s reopening plan is not ready for prime time. But it’s a familiar position, because educators are called upon year after year to turn water into wine. Our bargaining team will continue to push them at the table, seizing every bit of progress, because we haven’t given up on safety — even if they have.
Perhaps the most powerful tool to help us navigate the coming days and demand safety improvements on the ground are our safety committees. We can show our commitment to the well-being of our students and families by making sure every school community puts their committee into action. Plan to join a safety committee training, and remember to sign and share our Invest in Schools petition.
Wednesday, September 1, is the first House of Delegates meeting of you year. Please also review the latest version of our bargaining chart so you can stay up to date on our progress in negotiations.
We are a union of educators, but also a union of responsible adults who care for children. We cannot sign off on a safety agreement that’s deficient. We’re staying at the table, and we’ll keep pushing. This is the biggest collective endeavor the Chicago Teachers Union has ever undertaken, but we need partnership from the mayor and her team.
We’ll continue to communicate directly with our students and their families, engaging the power of our union to fight for improvements wherever they’re needed, and providing as much safety as we can.
Thank your families for their patience and their trust. Parents have been reaching out to us non-stop at CTU headquarters with their concerns, because they’ve become accustomed to our support in troubling times. We’re not backing down from our demands for real safety and equity for our school communities. Neither should you.