Chicago Teachers Union demands vaccines before returning to class
CHICAGO - The Chicago Teachers Union was pushing Friday for its members to be vaccinated before being required to return to classrooms, one of the key sticking points in its ongoing labor dispute with the city’s public schools over a planned Feb. 1 reopening date for K-8 students.
But the argument for teachers to obtain the COVID-19 inoculations as a precursor for resuming in-person work appears not to have prevented other large school districts around the U.S. from reopening their doors -- some even months ago.
Public educational facilities in places like New York City, Miami-Dade County and Houston are currently open for various levels of in-person and blended learning. Yet, out of that group, only in New York -- as of about two weeks ago -- are teachers currently eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, according to an analysis by Education Week.
In Illinois’ vaccine rollout plan, teachers first became eligible for the highly-coveted doses Monday.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) initially asked its K-8 teachers and staff to start returning to facilities that same day to prepare for a Feb. 1 in-person reopening for students, while pre-K and special education in-person programs have already resumed. But the district has since been telling parents to keep their children home for the time being, as union members -- who voted against coming back this week -- are opting to teach all-virtual instead.
Ultimately, Chicago Public Schools wants to offer its K-8 students two days a week of in-person learning starting Feb. 1, with the rest of their instruction being virtual.
Whether or not that will happen though remains unknown, as the district and union are locked in a stalemate.
"The District has refused to allow educators to be vaccinated before they’re pushed back into classrooms," the Chicago Teachers Union said Friday in an update on where the negotiations stand. "And CPS has rejected or ignored thousands of requests from educators for health accommodations for themselves or household members with hypertension, heart disease and other health conditions that put them at higher risk of COVID sickness and death."
"Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot continues to insist on reopening all elementary school classrooms on February 1, even as CPS has struggled to implement even the most basic safety protocols at many schools," it added, before concluding that "educators have voted overwhelmingly to remain remote until an agreement is landed."
The union, which is asking CPS to "offer all staff opportunity to be fully vaccinated before required to return in-person," also says the district "has offered to prioritize certain groups when vaccine is available," but provided "no specifics."
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The Chicago Teachers Union isn't the only voice in education calling for vaccinations before returning to in-person work. In California, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District made the same plea earlier this week.
Mayor Lightfoot’s office said Thursday that CPS is "continuing to work with the Chicago Department of Public Health to implement robust health and safety practices in every school building to ensure a safe experience for our students and educators."
"The experts at the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] said it themselves: in-person learning is safe when the proper protocols are in place," it added.
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