Chicago teachers accept COVID-19 safety deal, keeping kids in school after week of no classes

After five days of canceled classes, the standoff between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools is now over. While students returned to their desks Wednesday, teachers remain divided.

Earlier this week, the CTU’s House of Delegates approved a safety agreement with the city – striking a deal after several days of failed negotiations sparked by COVID-19 safety concerns in the classroom. The plan includes a commitment from CPS to provide KN95 masks to staff and students, expand contact tracing, and test 10 percent of students each week who are signed up for COVID-19 testing.

Despite CTU leaders voting the deal through, union members narrowly agreed to it during a vote on Wednesday. About 56 percent of members who voted approved the plan; 44 percent voted against it. Just 70 percent of eligible union members voted.

In a statement, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said, in part: "This vote is a clear show of dissatisfaction with the boss. This agreement covers only a portion of the safety guarantees that every one of our school communities deserve."

Parents and families are also split on the subject.

"As a nurse, I do not have childcare, so when the schools shut down, I have to hustle and find out who is going to keep my children," said Racine Harris, CPS parent. "I have to choose my children over my patients, and then I can’t go and take care of the people who have active COVID."

Harris said she is relieved her son is back in the classroom after the CTU’s work stoppage.

"He’s learning, he’s in a safe place, and now I can go take care of the people who need me," said Harris.


Others said they would prefer school to have a remote-learning option.

"I’m behind the parents, I’m behind the teachers," said Linda Johnson, whose grandchildren attend CPS. "I don’t feel comfortable for them being at school at all. I want them on remote. To me, the people that don’t want their kids at school and want them on remote, let that happen."

In a joint statement Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said: "We are pleased we have come to an agreement that guarantees predictability and stability for the rest of the school year. We all agree we must prioritize the health and well-being of everyone in our school communities including our kids, families, and staff. The science tells us that the safest place for our students is to be in the classroom, which is why, in addition to the over $100 million already spent on COVID mitigation, CPS is providing KN95 masks, augmenting its every school-every week testing program, and strengthening its contact tracing approach. CPS principals will continue to work with their school-based safety teams to make data-informed decisions in the best interests of students and families. We encourage families to get their children vaccinated and to consent to regular testing. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the entire school community."

In response to the safety agreement, a group of high school students is calling for a district-wide student walk-out at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 14. In a tweet, they said it's to stand up for their own health and safety.