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DJ Chicago Schools Resume Talks Over Plan to Reopen Amid Pandemic

· 02/06/2021 20:58
By Joe Barrett

CHICAGO -- City leaders said Saturday evening that they had relaunched talks with the teachers union over a plan to reopen elementary schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, talks had appeared to reach a standstill after the city unveiled what it called a "last, final and best offer" and the union said that it had fallen short. The city had ordered pre-K and special education teachers to report to work Monday and said they would be locked out of remote learning software if they failed to show up. The union has said such a lockout could trigger a strike.

That made Saturday's statement a surprise.

"The parties have been in discussions throughout the course of the day to determine if there is a pathway toward a final, comprehensive deal. Those discussions continue," Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Janice Jackson, chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, said in a joint statement.

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 those of color, are falling behind under remote learning.

The two sides have reached agreement on several areas, but a final deal has been elusive.

On Friday, the city gave details of its final proposal, including switching to a phased reopening instead of opening all kindergarten to 8th grade classes at once. Teachers had sought a phased rollout by geographer not grade, to avoid opening schools in the areas with the most cases of Covid-19.

The teachers union said Friday that 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 prekindergarten 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 06, 2021 20:58 ET (01:58 GMT)

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