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As CPS continues to fail to provide adequate COVID testing or contact tracing to keep COVID out of schools, Lightfoot’s vax efforts continue to flounder. Today’s CTU bargaining update also livestreamed on the Union’s Facebook page.

CHICAGO — The CTU met with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s CPS bargaining team this morning and submitted a proposal demanding that necessary mitigations — including a negative COVID test for students — be in place to ensure safety for everyone in the school community on January 3, the day students return from winter break. If mitigations are not in place, the CTU’s proposal would pause in-person learning to give the district time to ensure that all mitigations are in place. The number of fully vaxed school educators being sickened by COVID continues to increase rapidly, and the Union has also flagged concerns about safely staffing schools as educators are felled by illness in growing numbers as is being seen in the retail and airline industries.

The proposal is designed to address the impact of the worst COVID outbreak in the history of the pandemic, with the Illinois Secretary of State and ILGA offices among those moving to pause in-person work while the surge spikes. Washington DC is requiring students to test negative before closing schools, and a growing number of schools and universities are moving to remote, including Cleveland public schools.

The Union is calling on CPS to follow the practices of cities like Washington DC, and ensure every student tests negative before returning to in-person learning, with CPS to provide tests. If CPS cannot meet that need, and their response today indicated they continue to refuse, then the CTU is asking for a two-week occupational pause under the terms of last year’s safety agreement metric. CPS hit that metric for school closures last week. Chicago is currently at the highest rate of daily new cases and positivity that have been seen over the entire course of the pandemic, with a variant that is vaccine evasive and driving very high rates of breakthrough infection.

Instead, CPS continues to reject investing in more testing, contact tracing, vaccine initiatives and other safety tools, and instead continues to throw the responsibility for testing and vaccines directly on the shoulders of parents and families.

CPS has also continued to claim that their protocols are adequate during the surge, even as the district was rocked with its highest rates of infection and quarantine in the weeks before winter break. So far, the mayor and her CPS team have refused to guarantee that layered mitigations to prevent COVID spread — including tests and contact tracing — will be in place on January 3.

“We want to be in our buildings educating our students — but we have a right to rigorous layered mitigation that ensures that we’re also not sacrificing our lives for our livelihoods,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “CPS has the funds — over 2 billion by their own count — to be able to do what’s necessary starting Monday morning to keep people safe. If those mitigations aren’t in place by Monday to protect our educators, students and families, we predict chaos. We have already dealt with inadequate staffing since the beginning of the school year, including a desperate lack of substitute teachers. This failure to plan and adequately protect our school communities will only make this situation worse.”

The CTU registered more than 600 people for drive-in COVID tests at CTU headquarters this week before having to cut off registration because of capacity issues.

Cars were lined up for blocks outside CTU’s West Side headquarters today for those tests, and CTU members also helped families deliver thousands of COVID test kits to FedX boxes and drop-off sites this week. That’s a clear indication of the public hunger for access to tests and mitigation, even as the mayor’s COVID policies have failed to get tests and vaccines to communities that continue to be disproportionately hammered by COVID.

“This is not a binary debate about opening or closing schools,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. “We know mitigations in far too many of our schools are inadequate, and we’ve been asking the mayor’s CPS team for almost two years to partner with us to make sure we’re maximizing protections in our schools. We need the mayor and her team to draft a plan to keep schools staffed and people safe. Instead, the mayor has abrogated her responsibility to make decisions as the head of the school district that truly maximize safety, and forced educators and families to shoulder those safety burdens alone.”

The Union is planning on filing a ULP — an unfair labor practice — for repeatedly failing to provide information to which the CTU has a right, including the rate of vaccinations of students at each school and the number of families who’ve been able to successfully register for tests through CPS’ obstructive opt-in policy.

The CTU bargaining team also provided a video update after bargaining today livestreamed to the CTU Facebook page.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.