Chicago schools postpone in-person classes over Covid-19 safety plan

The third-largest school district in the United States told the parents of 62,000 elementary and middle school students who opted to begin taking some of their classes in their schools on Monday to stay home, saying it hopes to resume in-person classes for those students on Tuesday.
Representational image. (AP file)
Representational image. (AP file)
Published on Feb 01, 2021 10:03 AM IST
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Chicago Public Schools on Sunday delayed the resumption of in-person classes for thousands of elementary and middle school students by at least a day as the district and teachers failed to reach an agreement on a COVID-19 safety plan.

The third-largest school district in the United States told the parents of 62,000 elementary and middle school students who opted to begin taking some of their classes in their schools on Monday to stay home, saying it hopes to resume in-person classes for those students on Tuesday.

The parents of 5,200 pre-kindergarten and special education students who began taking in-person classes on Jan. 11 were also told to keep their children home on Monday.

The decision to postpone in-person classes comes after the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union, representing 28,000 public school educators, failed to reach an agreement despite months of negotiations. The two sides have been at odds on teachers demands for stronger safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus inside the classroom.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Sunday that the two sides have agreed on health and safety protocols, ventilation in schools, contact tracing and creating health committees.

"We need a renewed sense of urgency on the part of CTU leadership," she said.

In addition to those issues, both sides have been trying to reach agreements on testing for teachers and students, teacher vaccinations and infection metrics used to decide when to close schools are also on the table.

Tensions between the two sides grew over the last week after rank-and-file members voted 71% in favor of staying remote and not going back into their schools until their needs are met. The union also has threatened to stop working altogether if the district retaliates against any of them who failed to report to school buildings.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson on Sunday night ordered teachers to report to work in-person on Monday and warned those that do not have a valid reason for their absence will be considered absent without leave. She also said they would be locked out of their remote systems on Monday if they do not report to work.

"Our members are prepared to keep working and negotiating," the union said in a Tweet on Sunday night. "If there is a choice to end negotiations, cause a crisis, or cut off 80 percent of students in the city who have chosen remote learning, that choice won't be ours."

Like many districts across the nation, CPS has been teaching its 355,000 students remotely since the pandemic forced it to close school buildings last spring. While the district devised a plan to gradually bring back younger students, it has yet to announce when high school students will have the option to return to school buildings.

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