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US Chicago students set to return to school after several days of negations between teachers union and city officials over Covid-19 mitigation measures

13:21  11 january  2022
13:21  11 january  2022 Source:   cnn.com

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Chicago teachers will return to work Tuesday following a breakthrough in union negotiations with the city over Covid-19 mitigation measures -- a standoff that has kept students out of the classroom since Wednesday.

An empty street in front of Lowell Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, on Tuesday as classes were canceled amid negotiations between the teachers union and city over Covid-19 mitigation measures. © Tannen Maury/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock An empty street in front of Lowell Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, on Tuesday as classes were canceled amid negotiations between the teachers union and city over Covid-19 mitigation measures.

The confrontation began last Tuesday when the Chicago Teachers Union voted to begin teaching virtually amid rising Covid-19 cases in the school system. In response, the school district canceled classes.

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The CTU's House of Delegates voted Monday to suspend the remote work action while its rank-and-file members vote on the proposed agreement.

Amid that voting process, students will return to in-person instruction Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools said in a letter to families.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a written document with full details of the agreement would be released after CTU members approved the deal.

But she noted the two sides "reached an agreement on the metrics for, at a school-based level, for when we needed to convert a classroom or school to go remote. Not surprisingly, the component parts of that depend upon staff and or student absences."

According to the mayor, "some layers" were added to enhance testing in schools and the administration will be working with CTU in engaging families to increase testing consents.

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"That's a critical part of it. We want to get to as high a number in testing consents as we possibly can," Lightfoot said.

Jen Johnson, CTU chief of staff, said coronavirus testing in schools will ramp up to 10% of students in each school being tested each week.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday night that 350,000 rapid antigen tests were delivered to the school district to help address testing concerns.

The proposal also includes details regarding contact tracing and new incentives to increase the number of substitutes in the district, the mayor said.

"I'm not going to say this is a home run," said CTU president Jesse Sharkey. "We're happy it's over but we're not happy we had to go through it in the first place."

"We're still working out some of the details, but we anticipate information to go to members tomorrow about opening polls at some point tomorrow," Johnson said at a press conference Monday night.

Negotiations between city and Chicago teachers union to continue into weekend

  Negotiations between city and Chicago teachers union to continue into weekend Bargaining sessions between city officials and the teachers union on a return to the classroom remain productive but must wrap up this weekend, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told CNN Friday night. © Scott Olson/Getty Images The Chicago Public Schools system, which has canceled classes since Wednesday, said it hoped to have in-person learning again Monday. "CPS is committed to working toward an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union throughout the weekend, and we are dedicated to working day and night so we can get our students back to school next week, hopefully on Monday," the statement said.

There's a desire for members to "have time to meet with their colleagues ... and discuss the terms and really grapple with the strategic question of what is and isn't achievable in this moment with this mayor, and then, you know, keep ballots open for sufficient time to have that kind of dialog and debate."

Johnson said CTU would also probably have another all-member meeting while the voting window is open to discuss details of the agreement.

"We understand that people want to be able to voice their choice on a timetable that makes sense with what's in the agreement, and we'll have to balance that with ensuring that votes are able to come in," Johnson said.

Lightfoot said the agreement will extend through the remainder of the school year.

"The agreement that we have proposed takes us through the end of summer school and I'm hopeful will have a stable uneventful rest of the school year," she said.

Stalemate began amid record-high Covid-19 cases

Last Tuesday, the last day students were in classrooms, Chicago Public Schools reported 422 new Covid-19 cases among students and 271 new cases among adults -- both record highs for the academic year.

CTU originally proposed resuming in-person teaching Tuesday, January 18, "unless (the Chicago Department of Public Health) or the State of Illinois determine that public health conditions are not safe for in-person school at the time."

This isn't the first time school has been canceled over an impasse between the teachers' union and Lightfoot.

In 2019, the same year Lightfoot took office, more than 25,000 Chicago educators went on strike to demand more support staff, higher raises and limits on class sizes.

The 11-day strike ended when the city agreed to increase school staffing, including more school nurses and 209 more social worker positions -- enough for one social worker at each school.

The deal also included more funding to reduce oversized K-12 classrooms and more funding for recruitment and training.

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