The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on Monday reached a tentative agreement with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago school district, but continued to criticize failed city leadership during a press conference.
The agreement, which still requires a union vote, will allow schools to return to remote learning if 25% of staff test positive for COVID-19. It also secures access to increased testing and personal protective equipment, and enhances contact-tracing measures at all public schools.
Chicago Public Schools will reopen schools for in-person instruction on Wednesday after canceling classes for five days amid negotiations.
Despite the agreement, union leaders appear dissatisfied.
“This mayor is unfit to lead this city, and she is on a one-woman kamikaze mission to destroy our public schools,” CTU Vice President Stacey Davis Gates said during a virtual Monday press conference, adding that the agreement is the “only modicum of safety that is available for anyone who steps foot into” Chicago schools.
The union “once again” has “had to create infrastructure for safety and accountability in” Chicago schools, saying members have been held in “hostage negotiations,” she said.
“You have more testing because the mayor was shamed into taking the testing from the governor, who, by the way, offered it months ago. We have better contact tracing because it will be anchored inside of our school communities, where we have agency over how to make it work well. What parents don’t know if without the school workers in your building, you don’t have anything,” Davis Gates continued.
She added that “no matter how imperfect” the 25% positivity rate metric is for allowing schools to go remote, at least CTU members “have one.”
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said during the virtual conference that he is “personally exhausted,” calling negotiations with CPS “a very unpleasant experience.”
He said teachers have had ongoing concerns about the virus since the union’s safety agreement it reached with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) last winter expired and delta cases surged in the fall, adding that the school district “does not have proper safety mitigations in place.”
More than 90% of CPS staff are fully vaccinated, and while Sharkey does not think CTU “members felt their personal safety was at risk,” he believes “it was definitely the case that” members were concerned about the safety of school families and other personnel.
Lightfoot on Monday cheered the tentative agreement in a Monday tweet.
“After a productive day at the bargaining table, I am pleased to report, CTU will end their work stoppage,” Lightfoot tweeted Monday. “CPS put a great proposal on the table that both bargaining teams discussed in detail today.”
CPS canceled all classes starting between Jan. 5 and Tuesday amid negotiations with the union. In-person classes will resume on Wednesday.