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Chicago Teachers Union votes to defy district's reopening plans over coronavirus concerns

Chicago Teachers Union votes to defy district's reopening plans over coronavirus concerns
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The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to defy Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) reopening plans for teachers and staff due to coronavirus concerns, the union announced on Sunday

The teachers union for the nation’s third-largest school district decided to allow all educators to conduct work remotely starting on Monday, the day that kindergarten through eighth grade staff were expected to return in person. 

The CTU reported that 86 percent of its 25,000 members participated in the electronic vote on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Seventy-one percent of voting members decided to deny the district’s current plan to come back to in-person learning.

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“So what does this mean?” a CTU release read. “It means the overwhelming majority of you have chosen safety. CPS did everything possible to divide us by instilling fear through threats of retaliation, but you still chose unity, solidarity and to collectively act as one.”

The Chicago Sun-Times labeled the vote as “unusually close for CTU labor actions” noting that 94 percent of voting members in 2019 decided to strike. 

The Chicago district’s officials sent a letter to families on Sunday in response to the vote, saying the return date for teachers will be delayed until Wednesday to allow for more time for negotiations and to avoid “risking disruption to student learning.” They noted they hoped to reach a deal with the union "as soon as possible” and the Feb. 1 return date for students remains in place.

“We now agree on far more than we disagree, but our discussions remain ongoing, and additional time is needed to reach a resolution,” the letter obtained by The Hill read. 

The teachers union and CPS have been feuding over the district’s plan to require most teachers and staff to work in-person for weeks. Under the plan, staff and teachers were supposed to return on Monday, with the K-8 students having the option of in-person learning starting on Feb. 1.

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CPS previously instructed most of its pre-kindergarten and special education staff to return to schools earlier this month, with students going back Jan. 11. But the district reported that 49 percent of those who said they’d return for the Jan. 11 start date have, amounting to 19 percent of the student populations. 

In their letter, the officials said pre-K and special education staff will be expected to keep reporting in-person to work, despite the delay for other staff. The district has already blocked remote work and stopped paying a few dozen of these teachers who previously did not return to in-person work.

The CTU has said that its vote does not qualify as a strike as teachers have committed to continuing remote work, although the district is not allowing it. The union said it would strike if no deal was reached by Wednesday and CPS prevents K-8 teachers from working from home.

District officials and City Health Commissioner Allison Arwady have expressed confidence in CPS’s reopening plan, and the Sun-Times reported the district has spent $44 million on disinfectants, PPE, air purifiers and other measures to prevent spread.

But the teachers union still seeks answers to several questions, including whether staff who have a household member with certain medical conditions can be allowed to work from home and whether there will be an increase in testing for staff and students.