Chicago teachers vote for tentative deal with city, but struggle for safe schools continues

The deal will allow for educators with medical risks or living with people who have them, to continue remote-learning. Even though most of the members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to approve the deal, the union insists that this is not a final or just deal.

February 11, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
A CTU demonstration by teachers in the CPS system, on the eve of the earlier planned reopening of schools, on Sunday, February 7. Photo: CTU/Twitter

After months-long struggle, educators and staff of Chicago have voted in favor of a tentative deal for reopening with the city administration. The results of the vote, which was held on Tuesday, February 9, and released on Wednesday, February 10, had a majority of the over 25,000-member Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) favoring the tentative deal to avoid a massive lockout of teachers and students.

The deal was agreed on by the CTU and the governing board of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) a day ahead of the earlier scheduled date for school reopenings for certain classes and grades. This was a result of months long struggle, mobilized by the CTU, against the city administration’s haphazard plans to reopen schools in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deal will allow for in-person classes to resume in a phased manner. The first phase of reopenings, in-person learning for preschoolers and special education students will begin on Thursday February 11. Students from kindergarten to fifth grade will have their classes resumed on March 1, and those in sixth to eighth grade will return on March 8. The deal has also assured vaccination for 1,500 school staff every week.

Parents will be given a choice to opt for either in-person or remote learning, depending on “operational feasibility”. The deal will also allow for teachers who have health issues or live with people who do, and those who do not have any students opting for in-person classes to be allowed to continue teaching remotely.

While the Chicago Public School system heads, and mayor Lori Lightfoot, who have refused to accept teachers’ demands and stalled negotiations for a deal for nearly eight months, have shown their jubilance over the tentative deal, the CTU has struck a more cautionary note.

The union asserted that the teachers and the CPS board are yet to arrive at a lasting deal on reopenings, and that the negotiations will continue over federal safety guidelines and other pressing issues over reopening of the schools.

“There is no agreement yet between the Union and the Board of Education. What we have is a framework that all of our members must first review and assess, because it is our members who are being asked to return to school buildings in the midst of a global pandemic,” read a tweet by the CTU on Monday.

After the CTU leadership decided for a rank-and-file ratification of the deal, of the total 25,367 members 20,275 voted on Tuesday. Of these 13,681 members voted yes and 6,585 voted no. Even though more than half of the current membership of the union voted in favor of the deal, the numbers do indicate a large section of the union members remain unhappy with the current arrangement.

Preceding the vote on the deal, the House of Delegates of the CTU, a body consisting of local and city-wide union leadership, overwhelmingly passed a vote of no-confidence against Mayor Lightfoot and the CPS leadership.

This discontent is also indicative of how the union leadership has consistently framed the agreement as not the final deal and reiterated their stand to continue to fight for a better deal. In a statement released on Wednesday, CTU president Jesse Sharkey clarified that the union will continue to fight for safe schools for the teachers, students and their families.

“Let me be clear. This plan is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families. The fact that CPS could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparations in schools is a disgrace,” said Sharkey.

“This agreement represents where we should have started months ago, not where this has landed. That is a stain on the record of their administration. In a humane system, we would have used this as a beginning to build out real equity for school communities that had been starved of resources and equity decades before the pandemic hit.”

In the statement Sharkey stated that the deal was to help reinstate teachers locked out of remote-learning facilities for refusing to return to schools over various health and safety concerns, and to ensure that the negotiations continue.