We reached an agreement with Chicago Public Schools in January that guaranteed masking in schools — along with other critical COVID-19 mitigations for safety — through the end of the 2021-2022 school year. This agreement was the result of a hard-fought campaign where we had to fight for basic safety, then continue fighting to enforce what we gained in that fight for safety. Like you, we have heard recent reports that the district will soon be making masks optional in our buildings.
We have a collectively bargained agreement, and it is vitally important that CPS honor that agreement. Yes, the numbers around the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted, and Chicago is in a much better place than in January in terms of hospitalizations and positive cases. But we also have large numbers of students still not fully vaccinated in schools with congregate settings and overcrowded classrooms.
Should CPS move toward making masks optional without bargaining to do so safely, we know that this refusal to honor our agreement will have consequences.
A majority of the respondents to our Member Survey on Masking & Recovery in Schools reported being in favor of maintaining universal masking in schools per our existing agreement. This is essential in majority Black and Brown schools on the South and West sides, where nearly 40 percent of schools have vaccination rates below 25 percent. Universal masking remains the simplest way to keep schools open and the number of positive COVID-19 cases low, so members’ responses reflect a desire to keep everyone in our school communities healthy and safe, and our schools open and operational.
Making this layer of mitigation optional would require the district to improve other safety protocols, such as continued distribution of KN95 masks to all who want them; replacing HEPA filters as needed and undertaking air quality monitoring; increasing and providing a full accounting of the number of weekly tests at each school to gauge where agreed upon goals are not being met; plans to set up a citywide vaccination effort, with specific guidance for all unvaccinated students and pre-kindergarten students under five who cannot be vaccinated yet; and adequate resources for more rigorous contact tracing.
We cannot let Mayor Lightfoot and her CPS team follow the lead of Tom Devore, a grifter hundreds of miles from Chicago who is using CPS families for his own political gain. Devore is nothing but a fraud who wants to eliminate an effective tool that we fought for, made sacrifices for, and won to make our schools safer.
Now that we are again trending in the right direction, we cannot afford to have any avoidable disruptions in our buildings. We also cannot give someone like Devore — with no agency, no base in Chicago, and no skin in our city or our public schools — the ability to recklessly impact the health of the people in our school communities.
We have medically fragile educators and students in buildings simply because the mask mandate is in place. Without this critical layer of protection, will the district provide paid leave, or expand its Virtual Academy? Will there be an increase in quarantine time should COVID-19 cases increase?
We have no way of answering these questions without bargaining with CPS. But we do have an agreement in place, right now, that protects us.
Should CPS move unilaterally to lift its mask mandate and violate the terms of our agreement, we will immediately take legal action to enforce that agreement. We have also sent a letter to the mayor, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, and the Chicago Board of Education today outlining additional terms of the agreement that must immediately be met subsequent to any attempt to end universal masking in our schools.
Our union will convene an all-member webinar on Monday to provide updates on efforts to enforce our Memorandum of Agreement, and address circumstances around the upcoming March 10 hearing where Devore has asked a downstate judge to order CPS to break our Agreement and end the CPS masking requirement.
We anticipate CPS taking some sort of action in the next week. We will be ready.