Chicago teachers face work stoppage in COVID-19 safety plan dispute | Reuters

Chicago teachers appeared headed on Monday for a strike or lockout over their latest dispute with the third-largest U.S. school district after the two sides failed to reach an deal on a COVID-19 safety plan even as they vowed to keep talking. Slideshow ( 2 images )

The Chicago Public Schools late on Sunday told the parents of 67,000 pre-kindergarten, special education, elementary and middle school students who were scheduled to attend in-person classes on Monday to keep their children at home after it could not reach an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The district, in a letter to parents, said it hoped to hold in-person classes for those students on Tuesday.

The union, which represents the city’s 28,000 public school educators, has been locked in negotiations with the district for months over a gradual reopening of schools for the system’s 355,000 students. The two sides have been at odds on teachers’ demands for stronger safety protocols to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in classrooms.

During separate news conferences on Sunday night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said talks stalled while union president Jesse Sharkey said it was “disappointed” and “frustrated” with the process.

Both sides vowed to continue to negotiate.

“I think we can still get a deal done,” Lightfoot told MNSBC on Monday morning. “A strike would be catastrophic, mostly for our kids.”

Lightfoot added that officials were awaiting a response from the union after the city put forward its latest proposal, saying a few tough issues remained and urging teachers “to meet us halfway.”

Vaccines remained an issue, and Lightfoot said officials were working to get teachers, particularly those working or living in the hardest-hit areas, vaccinated as soon as possible.

Tension between the two sides grew in recent days after rank-and-file members voted in favor of staying remote and not going back to their schools until their needs are met.

The union has threatened to stop working altogether, form picket lines and strike if the district retaliates against any members who fail to report to school buildings.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson on Sunday ordered 10,000 teachers to report to work in-person on Monday and said those who did not have a valid reason for their absence would be considered absent without leave. She said they would be locked out of their remote systems on Monday if they do not report to work.

The possible work stoppage in Chicago comes 15 months after the city’s teachers staged an 11-day strike over overcrowded classrooms, support staff levels and pay.

The school district has been teaching its 355,000 students remotely since the pandemic forced it to close school buildings last spring. Some 62,000 elementary and middle students signed up to take some of their classes in person starting on Monday.

Another 5,200 pre-kindergarten and special students who choose the same option had been taking classes in their schools up until Tuesday, when the district canceled in-person instruction for them for the rest of the week because of the dispute. The district has yet to announce when high school students will have the option to return to school buildings. Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Will Dunham

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