Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Friday in a standoff with the Chicago Teachers Union. Classes were first canceled Wednesday after CTU members voted to work remotely instead of in person. Teachers and staff are concerned with their safety and the safety of their students as the number of Omicron cases continues to rise.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot wasted no time in calling the move an “illegal strike”. Lightfoot then locked teachers out of their accounts and denied pay. CTU President Jesse Sharkey maintains that his members want to continue teaching but want to feel safe doing so.
“At a time when the positivity rate in Chicago is more than 23% and ICU beds are dwindling, the mayor’s team at CPS either needs to honor our demand to teach remotely, or they must implement adequate mitigations, including robust testing, sufficient staffing and subs, and a school-level metric to trigger a pause in in-person instruction. Without such mitigations, we know that CPS buildings aren’t safe,” said Sharkey in a statement to CTU members.
CPS lawyers have asked the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to issue a cease-and-desist order against the Chicago Teachers Union. They cited it was illegal for CTU to instruct its members to stay home and move to remote instead.
The Chicago Teachers Union lawyers responded by filing motions of their own. CTU alleges that Chicago Public Schools violated the law by failing to negotiate an agreement with CTU concerning safe school reopenings after the previous agreement expired. They ask that Chicago Public Schools be made “to honor the statutory right of employees to refrain from working in dangerous conditions.” They want the state to grant CPS staff the right to work remotely.
CTU held a zoom meeting Thursday night to update members and to discuss claims that some teachers are now allowed to telework. CTU President Jesse Sharkey said there are two main issues on the table. Those issues are proper safety protocols for moving to remote when numbers warrant it, and the two-week remote work action during this current surge. Sharkey stated that Lightfoot was “going bananas” over those two issues but is confident that a resolution is near.
Jen Johnson, CTU Chief of Staff encouraged teachers who have been granted permission to telework to do so. “You should do telework if you are given access. We did not think we should be locked out. We should be able to educate and do our work remotely, and stay safe and connect with our students and do our work,” said Johnson.
Paula J. Shelton is a freelance writer and journalist based in Chicago. Find her on social @beboldshineon.