Chicago's COVID Standoff Ends With a Very Narrow Vote

Union, district reach a deal; rank-and-file members narrowly approve it
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 11, 2022 2:40 AM CST
Updated Jan 13, 2022 12:00 AM CST
Chicago Students Returning to School
Cheri Warner, right, stands with her daughter, Brea, as they join other parents calling for the Chicago school district and teacher's union to focus on getting students back in the classroom Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Update: The Chicago Teachers Union narrowly voted to approve the safety agreement struck between the union's leaders and the district, Chicago Public Schools, in order to facilitate a return to in-person school, which took place Wednesday after five days of canceled classes. An official tells CNN the 55.5% approval rate "is a clear show of dissatisfaction with the boss. It's outrageous that teachers, school nurses, counselors and more had to endure a week of being locked out by the mayor just to get a commitment from her bargaining team to provide every student with an N95 mask in a pandemic." Our original story from Tuesday follows:

Students are poised to return to Chicago Public Schools after leaders of the teachers union approved a plan with the nation's third-largest district over COVID-19 safety protocols, ending a bitter standoff that canceled classes for five days, the AP reports. While school districts nationwide have faced similar concerns amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, the labor fight in union-friendly Chicago amplified concerns over remote learning and other pandemic issues. The deal approved late Monday would have students in class Wednesday and teachers back a day earlier. It still requires approval with a vote of the union’s roughly 25,000 members.

Neither side immediately disclosed full details of the proposal Monday evening, but leaders generally said the agreement included metrics to close individual schools amid outbreaks and plans to boost district COVID-19 testing. The district notified parents in the largely low-income Black and Latino school district of about 350,000 students that classes would resume Wednesday. “We know this has been very difficult for students and families,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at an evening news conference. “Some will ask who won and who lost. No one wins when our students are out of the place where they can learn the best and where they’re safest.”

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In a dueling news conference, union leaders acknowledged it wasn't a “home run” but teachers wanted to be back in class with students. “It was not an agreement that had everything, it’s not a perfect agreement, but it’s certainly something we can hold our heads up about, partly because it was so difficult to get,” Union President Jesse Sharkey said. Parents and advocacy groups had stepped up calls Monday for quicker action. The district has purchased KN95 masks for students and teachers, agreed to bring back daily COVID-19 screening questions for anyone entering schools, and added more incentives for substitute teachers.

(More Chicago stories.)

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