Under Saturday’s offer, CTU members would return to classrooms starting Monday — not for formal classes but to distribute laptops and help students sign up for a weekly, school-based COVID-19 testing program. Remote learning would begin Wednesday with in-person classes slated to resume Jan. 18, assuming case numbers hold tight. But Lightfoot, CPS and public health officials have repeatedly opposed a wholesale return to remote learning during the standoff that so far has resulted in three days of canceled classes.
As of Thursday, the union had demanded a negative PCR test for students to return to class, but the new proposal would scrap that requirement for a plan in which 10% of a school’s population would be tested at random each week, on top of those who already have signed up for a voluntary weekly testing program.
If 20% or more of a school’s CTU staff is isolating or quarantining because of COVID-19, the school would switch to remote learning, according to the proposal. The threshold would jump to 25% if there are fewer than 100 employees at the school.
In-person learning also would be suspended at elementary schools if more than 30% of students are isolating, from more than 30% of homerooms. For high school and middle school programs, the threshold to suspend in-person classes would be if more than 25% of the student body is isolating.
Another new proposal from the union is an increase to the monthly substitute teacher stipend, from $420 to $1,000.
The union also continues to call for regular mask distribution and for reinstating the health screener at schools where administrators request that option.
During her Sunday appearance on “Meet the Press,” Lightfoot said she’s opposed to districtwide remote learning and defended her administration’s handling of COVID cases. She also said there are only 53 outbreaks tied to schools.
“We haven’t sat idly by and let COVID rage through our schools,” Lightfoot said. “When there’s been a necessity to shut down a classroom or shut down a school, to go to remote learning, we’ve done that.” She added: “We’re following the science. And what I won’t do is allow the teachers union to politicize this surge or the pandemic in general. People are nervous. They are scared. We get that, but the thing to do is to lean into the facts and the science and not abandon them in a panic.”
In negotiating with CTU, Lightfoot faces several challenges and has relatively little leverage. Her administration has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the union, which seeks to have the work action stopped, though that could take significant time to resolve (the union also filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the district). Lightfoot also has called on teachers to return to their classrooms, despite the union’s vote, which is unlikely to sway the opinion of a significant number of educators. About 13% of CTU teachers showed up to buildings late last week, the district said.
Asked what leverage she has over the union, Lightfoot said, “The leverage I think we have is we’ve got the will of the people. Parents are outraged and they’re making their outrage known to the teachers union.”
In a controversial move during Lightfoot’s dispute with the union over remote learning, her office quietly extended permission for its employees to continue temporarily working from home.
Late last month Lightfoot authorized staff members to work remotely through Jan. 7, but her chief of staff told workers last week that they can work from home for at least another week.
Lightfoot’s office acknowledged that the mayor’s staff is currently allowed to work remotely but said it isn’t an “apples-to-apples comparison” and noted other city workers, such as police, aren’t allowed to work remotely.
The continued existence and contagion of COVID and its variants is causing daily concerns and the need to think out of the box in our responses.