CBS News Chicago

Talks Continue, Legal Filings Fly As CPS Classes Remain Out Over Remote Learning Fight

January 8, 2022

(Chicago CBS) — Chicago Public Schools students on Friday were heading into the weekend facing another day of possible canceled classes Monday – while city officials said talks with the teachers’ union “must be concluded this weekend.”

Late Friday, CPS released the following statement:

“CPS is committed to working toward an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union throughout the weekend, and we are dedicated to working day and night so we can get our students back to school next week, hopefully on Monday. We know families need to plan ahead and we will be sending additional communication over the weekend with a status update regarding classes on Monday.”

Earlier Friday, CPS sent a notice to principals saying classes would be canceled for a fourth day on Monday. But CPS said the decision to cancel may be reversed if an agreement with teachers is reached.

In a joint statement late Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS Chief Executive Officer said: “Bargaining sessions continued today and went into the evening. The sessions remain productive but must be concluded this weekend.”

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, CPS students have already missed three days of classes after the Chicago Teachers Union voted to work only remotely amid the current COVID-19 surge. Afterward, teachers were locked out of their virtual classrooms.

Talks between CPS and the CTU continued late Friday, but there had been no update as of the late afternoon.

Meanwhile, principals citywide were scrambling late Friday to see if they would have enough staff to offer educational activities of any kind Monday. Before the notice of classes being canceled went out, some schools already announced that they would not be holding classes on Monday – including Roald Amundsen High School and Lane Tech College Prep. Amundsen said there will still be opportunities for “in-person enrichment activities” Monday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, others are looking to the courts to force a solution. Legal actions are flying as the more than 300,000 CPS students continue to sit out of class and wait.

The latest legal action was filed by the conservative Liberty Justice Center on behalf of Chicago Public Schools parents – asking a judge to force teachers back.

This came as teachers gathered outside one Chicago school, standing firm and saying a safety plan is needed before they will return to the classroom.

“We demand that students have masks – KN95, at least – to be in these schools,” a teacher said. “We also demand that we work in a safe environment.

While both sides continued to talk, they have also filed dueling complaints with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. The district claims the remote-only vote means the union has “breached the collective bargaining agreement,” while the union counter-filed Thursday, claiming a lockout also violates the contract.

Some state lawmakers are even weighing in, signing a letter supporting a safe return to schools.

“I’m not taking sides with the CTU or with the Board of Education,” said Illinois state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago). “It’s about the students.”

We have also confirmed that Gov. JB Pritzker’s office has offered the school district masks, tests, and vaccine help. But so far, the city has not responded to the offer.

“If the governor has made those options available, and those opportunities available, I would think it would be very hypocritical of the Chicago Board of Education to turn that assistance down and become territorial,” Collins said.

A district spokesperson said CPS is in active conversations with all levels of government to secure additional resources. But the CTU expressed doubts late Friday and said the mayor was not responding to the state’s offer.

“Riddle me this, Madame Mayor – why are you not responding?” said CTU delegate Briana Hambright-Hall. “It sounds kind of personal to me.”

Recently, Mayor Lightfoot and CPS rejected CTU’s offer following their proposal. Lightfoot via Twitter called for CTU to have students back in school saying it’s the safest place for them to be and it’s what parents want.

The School Board is requesting the Education Labor Relations Board expedite a hearing to discuss forcing teachers back to the classroom. But on Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for the board said the matter will not be reviewed until Jan. 31.

Meanwhile, as CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reported, the standoff with its turmoil and uncertainty is having a strong impact on students and parents. CPS high school senior Mandy Fernandez is none too happy about not having classes for three days.

“It’s so sad,” Fernandez said. “To be honest, I really miss seeing my teachers and friends.”

The constant battles between the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS is exactly why one parent, Olga Yavorski, decided to dodge them altogether.

“After watching all the CPS/CTU battles, we cannot rely on CPS and we went a private route,” Yavorski said.

This is hardly the first time kids have missed school because CPS and the union don’t see eye-to-eye.

In fact, there is an entire Facebook page dedicated to CPS and CTU strike updates – which dates back to the teachers’ strike of 2012. That strike happened a much different time and involved different demands and different players, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel pitted against the late CTU President Karen Lewis.

There was also a strike in 2019 that lasted 11 school days – which involved many of the same people at the helm today, but which also predated the pandemic and concerns about remote learning and spread of disease.

CPS teacher and parent Antonia Lopez said all the actions by the teachers’ union are for the children.

“We strike for children that are not even ours. We try to stay remote to keep ourselves safe; to keep their children safe,” Lopez said. “Of course parents are frustrated, but teachers aren’t babysitters.”

During this latest battle, a petition demanding that CPS kids go back to in-person learning had more than 2,500 signatures.

And as the sunset Friday on the third day without school, Yavorski said, “I looked at my husband and I told him we made the right decision” not to enroll their child in CPS.

Meanwhile, CPS senior Fernandez does not care how it happens – she just wants to go back to class.

“As long as we get to learn something, that will be OK,” she said.

Mayor Lightfoot has been making the rounds on cable news Friday but has not held a local news conference since Wednesday. Once again, remains to be seen what the next week of school, and this weekend’s communication, will look like as the city and the teachers’ union head back to the bargaining table.