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DJ Chicago Schools Outline Phased Reopening That Union Rejected, Possibly Setting Up Strike -- 2nd Update

· 02/05/2021 19:41
By Joe Barrett

CHICAGO -- Chicago leaders on Friday evening outlined a plan to reopen elementary schools amid the coronavirus pandemic in stages over the next month, part of a final offer that the teachers had rejected as insufficient earlier in the day.

The district had pushed to reopen elementary schools all at once on Jan. 25, but that plan was pushed back as teachers refused to report to classrooms. The city's new plan would launch in-person learning next Tuesday for pre-K and special-needs students; kindergarten through grade 5 on Feb. 22; and grades 6 through 8 on March 1, according to the nation's third-largest school district.

The teachers union has asked for a phased reopening by neighborhood, not by the age of the children, seeking to avoid reopening schools in the areas with the highest rates of Covid-19 infections.

"We have the power to make sure this virus does not further disrupt the growth and progress of all our students," Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Janice Jackson, chief executive of the school district, said in a letter to staff and parents. "We hope a resolution is near, and we thank you for your patience and support."

Mayor Lightfoot and Dr. Jackson said that pre-K and special-needs teachers who don't have a special accommodation are to report to school Monday, and if they don't, they will be locked out of online teaching software. The union has said that could trigger a strike.

The union has yet to offer a detailed counterproposal, city leaders say, instead issuing a press release citing deficiencies in the city's plan.

"This is a pandemic, and that means our schools have to get every single mitigation protection right if we're serious about keeping children and adults safe," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. "We're deeply disappointed that the mayor has chosen to stop negotiating and instead move to lock out educators and shut down schools rather than work out our differences."

The city has been in talks with the union for months about a way to safely open schools to K-8 students, saying that many students, especially students of color, are falling behind under remote learning.

The two sides have reached agreement on several areas, but a final deal has been elusive. The mayor has extended a deadline for the teachers' return multiple times, but on Thursday said she was out of patience.

In a press release Friday, the teachers union said the city's metric for pausing a reopening was too lax, that its plan to vaccinate 1,500 school staff a week was insufficient, and that it wasn't granting the option of teaching remotely to enough teachers who live with people with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid-19.

The city late Friday said that teachers in this position can continue to work remotely for 14 days if they get vaccinated in the next two weeks. It said it has already granted remote-teaching allowances for those teachers who are vulnerable or are primary caregivers for vulnerable family members.

The city has said it has spent $100 million on air filtration, masks, testing and contract-tracing capacity, and it has called an initial three-week period during which pre-kindergarten and special-education students attended schools a success. Dozens of cases of Covid-19 were found during that time, but the school system said that quarantining and other steps had prevented in-school spreading of the virus.

Less than 20% of parents took advantage of the in-person classes for pre-K and special-needs students, school system data show.

Write to Joe Barrett at joseph.barrett@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 05, 2021 19:41 ET (00:41 GMT)

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