CPC plans to cancel classes on Wednesday due to CTU vote

The principal of Chicago public schools said he would cancel all classes on Wednesday if Chicago Teachers Union members voted Tuesday night to refuse to teach in person.

CTU wants to return to distance learning from Wednesday, saying conditions in schools are unsafe due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But Martinez says there won’t be instruction on Wednesday if the teachers aren’t in the classrooms. Martinez said the school district needed time to develop a “responsible plan.”

At the same time, Martinez is also taking steps to try to prevent the CTU from going out of engagement.

On Tuesday afternoon, he said he handed the union a proposal that included a measure that would close individual schools due to a COVID outbreak, which the union called for. Martinez said the measure is linked to absences of teachers and students.

The proposal also included the immediate distribution of 200,000 KN95 masks to staff, increased contact tracing and the return of daily health checkers to schools who want them. Martinez also said he asked the union to delay the vote.

Martinez stressed that he was taking these steps to calm anxiety and fears, not because he thought schools were dangerous. He also expressed great frustration at the level of misinformation about COVID-19 in schools that he said he saw and heard.

“It’s not that our staff are not safe right now,” Martinez said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s to reduce anxiety. If that’s what’s going to make them feel better, I feel like I have to respond.

Martinez spoke hours before the union’s elected House of Delegates met at 4:30 p.m. to vote on whether to challenge school district orders to work in person “due to the board’s refusal to put in implement adequate COVID-19 health and safety. protocols, ”according to an email from the union to members.

The union wants staff to work remotely until January 18 or until the city no longer meets the parameters of a district-level in-person learning break provided for in an agreement that was in place. last school year. If the House of Delegates approves the measure, the more than 25,000 union members are expected to vote electronically between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. CAT has said it could put distance learning on hold before Jan. 18 if a safety deal is reached with CPS.

At a virtual CTU town hall on Sunday evening, 81% of 8,000 members said they did not want to work in person under current conditions, according to the union. CPS classes resumed Monday after a two-week hiatus amid the largest increase in COVID-19 to date.

CPS teachers can only work remotely if sanctioned by the school district. The CPS could exclude teachers from their distant classes and prevent them from teaching. This would effectively shut down the school district.

School district CEO and Mayor Lori Lightfoot want students to learn in person.

“What we have learned from this pandemic is that schools are the safest place for students: we have spent over $ 100 million to put in place mitigation measures, most members of CPS staff are vaccinated and we generally see little transmission in schools, ”Lightfoot said in a statement Monday. “Keeping children safe in school where they can learn and thrive is what we should all be focusing on. “

Lightfoot also highlighted the impact of the academic and emotional damage of distance learning. She rejected the “coup de saber from the leadership of the teachers’ union”

CPS officials also doubled down on their support for in-person learning, saying “massive, unwarranted and preventative district-wide school closings could actually power the community. [COVID-19] spread. “They said they had met with the union and” reiterated that a case-by-case, school-to-school approach is the best way to address COVID-19 issues in schools. “

On Tuesday afternoon, Martinez added that it was impractical to make a city-wide decision when conditions vary from school to school and in a district where more than 100,000 students are fully vaccinated.

CPS and city officials insist that schools are safe for in-person learning. In an email to families on Sunday, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said that “research has shown that with the extraordinary protections we have in place, school is one of the most sure that your children can be during the pandemic “.

The CPS says its protections include masking, contact tracing, testing, cleaning, air purifiers and vaccination opportunities.

Martinez noted last week that neither New York City nor Los Angeles is temporarily switching to distance learning. However, several small parts of the city, including Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Newark, have delayed reopening after winter recess or temporarily switched to virtual learning.

Parents speak out

When fired on Monday, parents and students had mixed opinions on the debate over in-person or distance learning.

At Drake Elementary School in Bronzeville, Shavonna Mason said she felt safe sending her five-year-old to school. The school’s security measures, she said, make her “feel a lot [more] safe as a parent, and i am a single parent. I still have to go to work, the world is still going on. And of course schools are necessary, right?

But parent Lisa Wilson was considering sending her three children to class.

“They should have continued to do online learning,” Wilson said, although she described the distance learning supervision as very difficult. She said that CPS and Drake are “doing their best, but I don’t think the best are good enough.”

Drake families have been given COVID-19 tests from the school district to administer during the winter break. CPS said it distributed 150,000 home kits before the holidays.

The results of Mason’s results came back negative, while Wilson stated that she never got the results from her children. She was among thousands of CPS parents who faced a frustrating outcome, many received an email saying the tests could not be processed “due to weather and vacation shipping issues.”

The CPS COVID tracker showed on Tuesday that out of 35,900 completed tests, 25,000 had invalid results and 18% were positive. On Monday, the CPS said it was seeking “answers” as to why more than half of the tests could not be validated and said it was increasing on-site testing for affected students this week.

On Monday morning, at Park Manor Elementary School on the south side, teachers said they volunteered over winter break to help families complete tests, only to find that most ended up being spoiled. Many Park Manor staff refused to work in person on Monday, as they did before the break when there was a spike in cases at the school. They say the school district told them they had to be in person and threatened to withhold their pay and discipline them.

In addition to major processing issues with the test kits, over 100,000 of the 150,000 available tests were never submitted. Some may still be in schools. The CPS says it will support families who wish to use the remaining home kits. About 300 of the 498 schools managed by the district have received tests.

CTU Security Requirements

As part of its vote on Tuesday, the union said it wanted to stay remote until January 18 or until the city no longer meets the parameters for a move to distance learning detailed in a agreement between union and PSC in place last school year.

The deal called for the CPS to switch to distance learning if the city’s seven-day average COVID-19 positive test rate met the following targets: increases for seven consecutive days; the rate for each of the seven consecutive days is at least 15% higher than the rate for the previous week; and the rate on the seventh day is 10% or more. Under this agreement, in-person learning would resume after 14 days or when the criteria are no longer met.

Reinstating this measure is part of the Chicago Teachers Union’s long list of safety requirements for the school district. Now leaders say they must take action to force the PSC’s hand on their demands.

“Here we are, a year later in the cold of January, performing another action at a distance, because [CPS] can’t do it right, ”CPS Vice-President Stacy Davis Gates said on Monday. She said the CPS only responds when the union draws a “line in the snow”.

In a proposal submitted to the CPS on Thursday, the CTU demanded that the school district require students and staff to take a negative COVID-19 test before attending in-person classes on Monday. Without this, the union offered a switch to distance education for two weeks. However, no other party followed up on this proposal.

The union also called for high-quality masks for all students and staff, and that individual schools move on to all distance learning if 20% of staff are in isolation or quarantine. The union is particularly concerned about the lack of adults in schools to operate safely, as many staff members may be ill. On Monday, the CPS reported that 18% of teachers were absent.

In an update on the negotiations Thursday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the district had told the union that it was unable or unwilling to respond to these demands.

But Martinez and the city’s top public health official said they were confident schools could be kept open and safe. Ahead of Monday’s opening, Martinez said the CPS had “deep cleaned” all schools, doubled the staff available to deal with the increase in cases, was purchasing an additional 2 million masks and would provide testing kits to home to students. CPA also asks parents to keep sick students at home.

But the CPS has not required that students test negative for COVID-19 before returning to school, as have other urban districts, such as Los Angeles and Washington DC, and some local private schools.

Martinez sent several letters to parents during the break, promising to take extra steps to keep students safe as cases escalate. He also identified what the school district considers to be school transmission – three cases in one classroom. This is something that CPS had not done before.

When that happens, he said the school district is committed to providing testing, making vaccines accessible, improving cleaning and ensuring substitutes are available.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr Allison Arwady added that children are not the engine of the latest wave of COVID-19.

Journalist Anna Savchenko contributed to the reporting of this story. Am here @WBEZeducation and @annasavchenkoo.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on twitter @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter

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