By Brendan O’Brien
CHICAGO (Reuters) – In-person classes in Chicago for pre-kindergarten and special education students were canceled again on Thursday as a labor dispute between teachers and school officials over the district’s COVID-19 safety plan remained unresolved.
Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), representing 28,000 public school educators, has been locked in negotiations with Chicago Public Schools for months over a plan to gradually reopen schools for in-person learning, including pandemic-related safety protocols.
With the nation’s third-largest school district aiming to reopen in-person classes for some elementary and middle students on Monday, the two sides have yet to come to an agreement. Rank and file members voted last week 71% in favor of staying remote and not going back into their schools until their demands are met.
Elementary and middle school teachers were due to report in person on Wednesday to prepare for Monday’s reopening, but only about a third of them showed up, the district said. It was uncertain how many reported to classrooms on Thursday.
“I am protesting the inequitable and unfair treatment of teachers, staff and scholars by CPS,” said Dwayne Reed, a fourth and firth grade teacher on the city’s South Side, who has not been in his classroom this week.
Earlier, CTU had warned that teachers will be ready to picket if the district disciplined any of those who failed to report to work on Wednesday.
In all, about 67,000 elementary and middle school students remain on the list to take at least some of their classes in-person, down from 77,000 who initially signed up for the option, according to CPS.
Similar labor disputes have unfolded across the country, pitting teacher unions against district officials over conditions for reopening, almost a year after the virus shut down schools for 50 million students nationwide.
The teachers’ union in Chicago says classrooms lack proper ventilation and that the district has failed to provide cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. The district says ventilation meets industry standards for classroom learning and that it would provide schools with adequate PPE.
The union has urged school and city officials to move quickly to vaccinate teachers. Inoculations are expected to begin in mid-February.
The district said on Wednesday in its latest proposal that it has offered to make accommodations for those teachers who have family members with medical conditions, and that it has expanded testing and prioritized vaccines for staff working in the hard-hit areas of the city.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)