Our CPS reopening agreement is just a piece of paper if we don’t enforce it member by member, building by building

Our reopening agreement with CPS is the product of a tough fight. It includes safety protocols, testing and contact tracing, cleaning and disinfecting requirements and a health metric to close schools during COVID outbreaks. These are all important safeguards that CPS never would have agreed to without the unity and sacrifice of our members.

But the agreement itself does not make our schools safe. It gives us tools to hold CPS accountable and to ensure our buildings are as safe as they can be. But the agreement is like our contract. The reopening will be only as strong as our ability to enforce it, building by building. And that’s where your safety committee comes in.

“We know this isn’t the first time we’ve had to fight for safety in our buildings,” CTU Organizer Tenille Evans told a group of more than 100 members at the first of five safety trainings the Union held. “Whether it’s the Aramark fiasco, rodents in our schools, crumbling ceilings or lead in the drinking fountains, we’ve always had to fight for what our students need.”

Our new reopening agreement is no different. Under the agreement, each building is to establish a safety committee made up of four CTU members, the principal, the building engineer, and a reasonable number of employees from other unions in the school. The purpose of the committee is to uphold the hard-fought and hard-won set of mitigations. And, by enforcing those, we can make building conditions safer for staff and students.

Tips for ensuring safety

Here are some tips for forming and activating your safety committee:

  • This is a good opportunity to bring some new members into Union work. Your delegate does not have to be on the committee, but it’s a good idea to get representation from the entire school, including clinicians.
  • Encourage your clerk to join the committee. Clerks often act as the “eyes and ears” of the school. So, they can provide valuable insight into building conditions other members might not be aware of.
  • Choose a CTU member to chair the committee.
  • Consider reaching out to LSC members and attending LSC meetings to report on safety issues and engage all members of the school community in the implementation of safety measures.
  • Use the CTU’s school safety checklist, found at ctulocal1.org/safety, on a regular basis to record conditions in your building.

“Remember, organizing for safety doesn’t stop at the safety committee,” Evans said. “We need everyone in the building to be engaged because they are the eyes and ears for the committee. We need everyone to be involved in keeping our schools safe.”

What should the safety committee address?

The safety committee can address violations of the reopening agreement as well as other safety concerns that get raised in your building. At the same time, if something isn’t specified in the agreement, it can still be taken up by the committee under Article 14 of our contract. That article guarantees the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

The safety checklist identifies eight general areas of concern: entry and health screening; office and common areas; ventilation; bathrooms; classrooms and instructional spaces; testing, operational pause, contact tracing; remote and hybrid issues; and other issues. Using the checklist daily will help identify areas of concern.

You should hold weekly safety committee meetings with your principal and flag issues that need to be addressed. Then, if the principal refuses to resolve an issue, the committee can file an incident report which will escalate the problem to a district-wide safety committee. That committee, which includes CTU President Jesse Sharkey and three other CTU members, shall resolve issues within 24 hours of receiving the complaint.

Visit ctulogal1.org/safety for full guidance on enforcing our reopening agreement. The page includes more tips on using your safety committees, the safety checklist, the district level incident report form and the full agreement.

We know we’re not walking into 100 percent safe buildings. However, our ability to enforce this agreement rests on strengthening our safety committees. This is new and there is a learning curve. But we have a wealth of experience in our schools to tap into.

Rebecca Martinez is a CTU organizer.