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Chicago mayor cites 'tentative agreement' to reopen schools; union reviewing it

Sophia Tareen
Associated Press

Chicago – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Sunday that a “tentative agreement” has been reached the teachers’ union over COVID-19 safety protocols, potentially averting a strike in the nation’s third-largest school district.

Under the possible deal, which still requires approval by the Chicago Teachers Union, the start of in-person classes, phased in by grade, has been pushed back from the district’s initial plans. Classes for some students would start later week.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

The union and district have been fighting for months over a plan to gradually reopen the roughly 340,000-student district, with talks breaking down in recent days. The major issues included widespread vaccinations for teachers, metrics to gauge school infections and accommodations for teachers who have a person in their household who’s more susceptible to coronavirus.

“This agreement was about making sure everyone in our school communities just aren’t safe, but also that they feel safe,” Lightfoot said at a news conference.

However, the union said the district’s latest offer that came Saturday night required further review.

“We do not yet have an agreement with Chicago Public Schools,” CTU tweeted on Sunday. “We will continue with our democratic process of rank-and-file review throughout the day before any agreement is reached.”

CPS officials have said opening schools is safe and that remote learning isn’t working for all students, including many Black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. Union officials had argued that the district’s plan, which included air filters in classrooms and voluntary COVID-19 tests for teachers, didn’t go far enough

Pre-K and special education students briefly returned last month, but then stopped amid an escalating fight with the union, which voted to continue remote teaching and reject the district’s plans. Teachers and students in K-8 were supposed to return Feb. 1. for the first time since going fully remote last March. The district had offered K-8 students two days of in-person instruction. No return date has been set for high school students.

The union had said that if the district locked out teachers, as it has done previously, teachers would picket. Such a move would have cut off virtual learning for all students. The union last went on strike in 2019.

About 77,000 students from pre-K to 8 expressed interest in returning to class in a December survey. While pre-K and some special education students were offered in-person classes five days a week, students in K-8 were offered two days a week of in-person instruction with remote class on other days.

Attendance has been lower than expected.

Roughly 6,500 of the nearly 17,000 eligible preschool and special education students said they’d like to return, but only about 3,200, or 19% of those eligible, attended after the January reopening, CPS said.