Chicago teachers told to return to classrooms: ‘Our school are safe,’ mayor says

By NICOLE PELLETIERE, ABC News

(CHICAGO) — Chicago teachers were told to return to classrooms starting Monday as the teachers union continues to fight the return to in-person learning due to health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

If teachers do not have an “approved accommodation,” they’re expected back in class, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Sunday.

“In order to give the teachers an opportunity to get themselves ready for students, we’re telling parents, ‘come back and bring your kids to school on Tuesday,'” Lightfoot said during a press conference.

In regard to the teachers who do not report back, “we’re going to have to take action,” Lightfoot said, adding that remote learning has been failing the city’s students.

The union has been defying Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) return dates in response to what its members believe to be an inadequate safety plan. Since January, teachers have engaged in the collective action to remain remote.

Since CPS are concerned that union leadership will continue to direct teachers to teach remotely, CPS said it cannot ensure adequate staffing Feb. 1 and all students will receive remote instruction.

In a letter shared with GMA, which was sent from Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson to families and staff regarding the reopening, CPS said in-person instruction will now take place on Feb. 2.

Jackson said if teachers and staff failed to report to school Monday they’d have their access to Google suites cut off at the end of the business day.

“We’re doing this because this is one step in a long plan on our road to safely reopen our school and at some point return to normalcy,” Jackson said.

Lightfoot reiterated that Chicago schools are “safe” and urged the teachers union to reach a deal. Both sides have met 70 times since June to come to an agreement on in-school learning.

Lightfoot said the city’s in-person schooling plan is supported by city health officials and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The mayor also pointed to the tens of millions of dollars CPS has invested on safety measures including PPE, health screenings, temperature checks, hand sanitizing and proper ventilation.

“Our schools are safe,” Lightfoot said. “We know that because we have studied what’s happened in other school systems in our city — 40,000-plus Archdiocese, charter and other public schools that have had some form of in-person learning since the fall.”

Lightfoot said CPS and the union have agreed on four areas: health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing and health and safety committees.

CPS, the nation’s third-largest district serving roughly 341,000 students in 638 schools, wanted 10,000 educators to return to school buildings late January in preparation for in-person learning by Feb. 1. CPS has since changed the return a number of times in accordance with the teachers union. Due to the pandemic, CPS turned to full-time online instruction last March.

A number of charter school networks within the district have chosen to remain remote until at least April when they said there will be wider access to vaccines, according to the union.

As essential workers, CPS teachers are all eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. They are not scheduled to begin receiving shots until mid-February, CPS and Chicago Department of Public Health announced Jan. 22.

Union members have taken issue with Lightfoot’s insistence on reopening classrooms without vaccinating educators by Feb. 1 regardless of the risk to staff and students from the pandemic.

The union said Sunday that if CPS does lock educators out, its next step will be to call its house of delegates, ABC News Chicago affiliate WLS reported.

A union delegate told GMA in January that educators who didn’t return to school buildings last month in defiance were locked out of their emails, telework system and were likely docked pay.

Lightfoot did not say if there would be disciplinary action beyond the lockout.

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