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DJ Chicago Schools Reach Tentative Pact With Teachers Union on Reopening Plan Amid Pandemic

· 02/07/2021 14:04
By Joe Barrett

CHICAGO -- City leaders said Sunday that they had a tentative agreement with the teachers union for in-person learning for elementary-school students to resume this week amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, the sides had reached an impasse after the city issued a "last, best and final offer," with the two sides apparently heading toward a lockout and strike. Then talks unexpectedly resumed on Saturday.

"We are here to deliver the very good news that our children will be returning to in-person learning this week," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a media briefing Sunday. "This agreement was about making sure that everyone in our school communities aren't just safe but also that they feel safe."

The Chicago Teachers Union was more cautious in how it described the deal on Twitter.

"There is no agreement yet between the Union and the Board of Education, " the union said in a tweet shortly after the mayor's media briefing. "What we have is a framework that all of our members must first review and assess, because it is our members who are being asked to return to school buildings in the midst of a global pandemic."

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 had been elusive, particularly over how the plan would be rolled out in stages, vaccinations, and allowances for teachers who live with someone vulnerable to the virus to continue remote learning.

One new area of agreement was over what would constitute a pause in reopening plans. The city had been proposing using in-school testing to determine when schools would return to remote learning for a two-week period to slow a resurgent virus. The tentative agreement would use citywide data showing the virus was rapidly advancing once again. The city's current positivity rate is 5.0% over the previous seven days.

The city said Sunday that pending union ratification of the deal, students in grades pre-K through 8th grade would begin returning to in-person learning on Thursday, with the oldest students returning on March 8.

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 07, 2021 14:04 ET (19:04 GMT)

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