Chicago Teachers Move Toward Strike; District Delays Return

Chicago public school teachers are moving toward a strike in the nation’s third-largest district as union members voted to only work remotely, prompting the district to delay the teachers’ required return to classrooms this week by two days.

The Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement Sunday that 71% of its voting members approved a resolution to “conduct remote work only” when kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers were scheduled to report to work in-person on Monday, the union said.

After the union released the vote results, the district pushed back teachers’ required return to Wednesday to create more time to reach an agreement, school officials said. Kindergarten through eighth-grade students have the option to return Feb. 1.

“To ensure we have the time needed to resolve our discussions without risking disruption to student learning, we have agreed to a request from CTU leadership to push back the return of K-8 teachers and staff to Wednesday, Jan. 27,” Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson and Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said in the statement.

School officials want to avoid the second strike in as many years for the district. The clash over reopening comes as school administrators across the country are grappling with how to bring students back to the classroom amid the pandemic and slow ramp-up of vaccinations.

New U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed to reopen most U.S. schools in his first 100 days and has directed the departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide guidance on reopening.

Biden’s Bid to Reopen Schools Risks Reigniting Union Tension

“We will continue to work remote so we can keep ourselves, our families and our school communities safe,” the teachers’ union said in its statement, noting that bargaining continues. “If we are locked out by the mayor and CPS, then the choice to strike is theirs, not ours.”

Chicago Public Schools plan to offer in-person instruction as part of a broader easing of Covid-19 restrictions in the city and across Illinois, where average positivity rates and case numbers have been falling. In Chicago, the seven-day rolling positivity rate is 7.3%, down from 9.1% a week earlier, according to the latest data on the city’s website.

On Friday, Jackson said that it would be considered a strike if teachers don’t report for work. The district is confident it can reopen buildings safely for more than 70,000 kindergarten through eighth-grade students on Feb. 1, according to Jackson. In-person learning began almost two weeks ago for the first time since March for preschool and special-needs students. Not all teachers have reported in-person as required.

Jackson said the past two weeks have shown that safety protocols are working. The district plans to start offering vaccinations to employees in mid-February.

The union said 86% of its members participated in the vote, which took place Thursday through Sunday.

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