The following article by Jonathan Bilyk appeared January 11, 2022 on cookcountyrecord.com.
A deal between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union to get teachers back into Chicago’s public classrooms starting Wednesday has ended the need for a court to intervene immediately in the latest clash over COVID safety measures.
But a group of parents of CPS students are not yet dropping their lawsuit accusing the CTU of engaging in an illegal strike that harmed their children and more than 340,000 other students enrolled in Chicago’s 636 public schools.
Those parents assert a court ruling is needed to prevent CTU from engaging in similar labor actions in the future, again depriving students of classroom instruction and leaving parents scrambling.
On Monday, Jan. 10, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the leadership of CTU announced they had reached an agreement that would officially end a so-called “remote work action” called by the CTU.
That labor action had resulted in nearly a week of school closures, as CPS was forced to cancel classes at nearly all schools in the city after members of the CTU refused to report to work, citing concerns over safety for teachers and other CPS employees amid the ongoing surge of the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The Chicago Board of Education and many parents and other critics of the CTU had labeled CTU’s action an illegal strike.
That, in turn, prompted a group of CPS parents to file suit in Cook County Circuit Court against CTU. They were represented in the action by attorneys with the Liberty Justice Center, of Chicago.
The lawsuit, filed Jan. 7, sought a court order declaring CTU had violated both state labor law and the terms of their collective bargaining agreement in refusing to return to teach in-person unless CPS caved to a list of demands the union claimed was necessary to improve health and safety conditions in school.
CTU asserted the action was not a strike, because teachers merely demanded CPS allow them to teach students remotely, as in earlier days of the COVID pandemic.
“Although CTU claims its teachers are willing to work remotely, teachers may not work remotely without the approval of the Chicago Board of Education,” the parents said in their complaint. “CTU members voted to refuse to teach under the conditions set forth by CPS. That is a strike by definition.”
After classes had been cancelled since Jan. 4, CPS and CTU announced a deal to resume classes on Wednesday, Jan. 12.
Under that agreement, CPS would commit to greater student COVID testing, including committing to test 10% of all students every week and new COVID tracking metrics to determine when schools would flip to remote learning.
The deal does not include any provision that would cause all CPS schools to revert to remote learning at the same time.
It also does not require all students to test negative before returning to school, as the union had demanded.
In announcing the deal, CTU leadership acknowledged they were pressured by negative public response to the labor action, and by the refusal of CPS to pay teachers who refused to physically report for work.
As part of their lawsuit, the CPS parents had sought an emergency order requiring CTU to drop their action and return to classrooms.
A hearing on that emergency order request had been scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 12.
A spokesperson for the Liberty Justice Center confirmed that emergency hearing had been scrubbed.
However, the Liberty Justice Center plans to continue with the lawsuit, she said, as the parents attempt to secure a court order forbidding the CTU from attempting to engage in similar “remote work actions” in the future.
In their lawsuit, the parents had noted CTU has remained a consistent impediment to returning children to full-time, in-person traditional classroom instruction throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The complaint notes CTU has consistently threatened to strike as a means of leveraging various concessions and measures the union asserted was needed to ensure teachers and other school employees were kept as safe as possible from COVID infection.
“We will not have an emergency hearing tomorrow since schools are reopening. However, we will continue with the lawsuit on behalf of parents,” the LJC said.
“These perpetual strikes are illegal and must be stopped from happening again.”