No school Friday as CPS, CTU remain at odds over reopening

Another day came and went without an agreement between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, leaving classes canceled again on Friday for the vast majority of students, though a small handful of schools were expected to offer at least some. activities.

The union’s disagreement with the school system over COVID-19 protocols amid the city’s wave of Omicron variants meant the vast majority of CPS students would be out of classes neither in classrooms nor online for the third day in a row, as the two parties resolved their differences.

“Today’s trading sessions started at noon and continued into the evening. The sessions were productive from our perspective, ”Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS Executive Director Pedro Martínez said in a statement.

President Joe Biden said this week that he believes schools should remain open during the Omicron wave, and an administration source said Biden’s education secretary Miguel Cardona had separate telephone conversations with Martinez and Randi Weingarten, president of the CTU Parents Union, in which he “underscored the importance of in-person learning.”

Cardona offered technical assistance from the Department of Education to “implement mitigation strategies for children to return to school in person” and told them that “we should all work together toward that goal of getting children back to classrooms while protecting the safety of teachers, educators and communities. “

Meanwhile, principals across the city sent messages to their families Thursday to let them know if their students would have limited opportunities to attend school on Friday, depending on how many teachers are expected to ignore the union’s refusal to work in person and will present in their buildings.

“You should not plan to send your child to school, unless your child’s principal tells you that students can come to school for activities in person,” the district told families, noting that would be the case. only in “a small number of schools.”

About one in eight CPS teachers, 12.8% of the district’s 21,600, went to their schools Thursday, according to district officials. Some schools posted higher rates than others, like Mount Greenwood, a Far South Side neighborhood in the city’s only Republican neighborhood, where the elementary school said more than 90% of its staff attended this week.

Teachers who are following the union’s labor action, which requires only remote work, an option that CPS does not currently allow, have had their emails and other work accounts blocked. Only those who report in person have access and can communicate with parents.

The district asked principals to present their plans by Friday mid-afternoon on Thursday. Those who expected 20% to 60% of their staff to report to school could have “academic enrichment” such as computer lab activities, sports, games, art, tutoring, or writing exercises, but no new lessons. grades or recorded attendance, according to a memo a director shared with the Sun-Times. Principals with 69% or more of their teachers expected to attend could have regular classes and record attendance.

One official wrote in a memo to the directors of a Northwest Side network that they should “be transparent about the support that can be offered to parents, don’t promise too much when you don’t have enough staff.”

In a video message posted online, Morgan Park High School Principal Femi Skanes told families that Far South Side School will not be holding remote classes on Friday, but will distribute laptops from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to have students keep them until the end of the year.

“For some of our students who need to catch up on some missing assignments or learn some skills in class, they will have a Chromebook so they can continue to do so,” he said. The devices can also be used for needs like PSAT or SAT practice, or for college and financial aid applications.

Thorp Elementary administrators told their families that 33 staff members, including custodians, lunch aides and bus aides, will supervise the children. The school was prioritizing special education students and children whose parents cannot work remotely for in-person assistance on Friday.

But after 18 confirmed cases this week, Principal Efren Toledo wrote in an email to the school community that any student who wants to go to school on Friday must be registered for the district’s COVID-19 testing program. Any CPS parent can register their children for testing at school at color.com/readycheckgo-cps. That program is for asymptomatic people: Anyone with symptoms was asked to be tested at a pharmacy, clinic, or other medical facility.

“That is something that is going to be a little different,” Toledo told families during an online webinar. “If they come back, they will have to be registered. It’s very important that we have a strong testing protocol. ”Half of Thorp’s students have signed up so far.

After principals met all day, Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Directors and Administrators Association, released a statement with comments from school leaders who criticized the plan to allow individual schools to offer different levels of support to your students.

“This is a district-wide crisis and we need a district-wide strategy. It should not be an ad hoc reactionary response that creates predictable inequities across social and economic lines, ”the statement said.

Martinez had said at a news conference Wednesday that he heard from principals that they wanted to offer programming for their students if they had enough staff.

More principals said they were receiving news of positive virus tests administered earlier in the week that showed more infections in their schools than before winter break. Confirmed virus cases hit record levels this week, in line with the city’s broader increase. Infections remained a small fraction of the district’s 272,000 non-charter school students and 40,000 employees, though many have had trouble accessing the tests.

There were 433 positive cases among students and 280 in adults reported Tuesday, both more than double the previous high school this school year, which occurred just before winter break, according to CPS records. Student cases fell to 136 on Wednesday, the first day of classes canceled, while adult infections stood at 208.

CTU has required students and staff to test negative before returning to class and has called for increased testing capacity in the future. The two sides are also discussing a threshold of teacher and student absences that would trigger the closure of an individual school for a few days.

Contributing: Lynn Sweet

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