Teachers in the district returned to work Tuesday, the day the vote opened for union 25,000 members to approve or reject the district’s compromise.
Negotiations between CTU and the city came as school districts across the country are struggling to balance the benefits of personal instruction with health issues as the highly transferable Omicron variant increases the number of cases.
“I’m definitely relieved to go back to the classroom and see my students, and my kids are also really excited to go back,” said Kathryn Rose, a Chicago teacher and parent of school-age children. “It has been frustrating to sit at home, healthy and want to be in the classroom.”
Rose said she always felt comfortable with the school’s mitigating measures and did not feel a district-wide shutdown was necessary.
“When you close schools, you ignore the many dangers outside the classroom, like abuse and hunger and lack of heat and violence. And those are things that families in Chicago are really struggling with,” Rose said.
Xuan-Vu Nguyen, whose 12-year-old son is a district student, said she is also relieved that schools are reopening. “My first reaction was ‘Yay!'”
But, she added, “We are excited about whether and when this will happen again without any notice whatsoever.”
Parents did not receive many prior warnings about school closures, and her family had to drop everything to accommodate the change, Nguyen said, making her feel frustrated. “I was, as a parent, left without power. Nowhere to express my concerns, nowhere to ask questions, really, about when this was going to end.”
Trade union members are voting on the proposed agreement
The preliminary agreement reached between the union, CTU, and the district will extend through the rest of the school year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.
As part of the agreement, Covid-19 testing in schools will increase up to 10% of students at each school tested each week, said CTU Chief of Staff Jen Johnson.
The mayor’s office will work with the teachers’ union to engage families to increase test consent, Lightfoot said. “That’s a critical part of it,” she said. “We want to reach as high a number in consent testing as we possibly can.”
The proposal includes details of contact tracing and new incentives to increase the number of temps in the district, the mayor said.
The two sides “also agreed on metrics for, at a school-based level, for when we should transform a classroom or school to go distant. Not surprisingly, the component parts depend on the staff and / or student absenteeism,” she said.
All details of the deal were expected to be released after union members voted on the proposal.
Voting began late Tuesday and is expected to be open for 24 hours, in time for a regularly scheduled CTU House of Delegates meeting Wednesday afternoon, a union official told CNN on Tuesday.
The proposal is expected to be approved by members, the union official said.
If the rank-and-file union members reject the proposed agreement, the decision on how to proceed will go back to the Delegate House. Options may include remaining personal while the negotiations continue, or returning to a push for distance learning while the final negotiations continue.
The pandemic is affecting schools across the country
The deadlock in Chicago began last week when the union voted to start teaching virtually due to rising Covid-19 cases in the school system. In response, the school district canceled classes during negotiations and kept 340,000 students out of classes.
On January 4, the last day students were in the classroom, Chicago Public Schools reported 422 new Covid-19 cases among students and 271 new cases among adults – both record highs for the academic year.
Superintendent Larry Chavez said the shift is due to an increase in Covid-19 cases. “SFPS ended last week with 361 cases involving students and staff, the largest ever in one week for our district, many of which are still under investigation. Cases could rise to nearly 600 this week, and we have seen increased proliferation in classrooms, said Chavez.
CNN’s Omar Jimenez, Raja Razek, Amir Vera and Adrienne Broaddus contributed to this report.