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Chicago Teachers Rally For A Safe Return To Schools

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Chicago Public Schools (CPS) may be one step closer to reopening as the local union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Sunday reached a tentative framework for reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-K and special needs education cluster programs could return as soon as Thursday. 

The remaining groups would return on a phased schedule, with early elementary through fifth grade staff returning on Feb. 22 and students on March 1. Staff and teachers serving sixth through eighth grade would return March 1 and students on March 8. High school students will continue remote learning for the time being as no date for their return was provided. 

The framework provides several provisions aimed at addressing safety concerns according to the Chicago Tribune. Union members will at least have the option of getting vaccinated before being required to return to the classroom. The city also agreed to vaccinate 1,500 teachers and staff weekly at dedicated sites.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said those living in “medically vulnerable households” would be prioritized for vaccination. It is estimated 2,000 teachers and staff fall within this category.

A late January report from the Chicago Tribute found that less than 20% of eligible students returned to in-person learning. 

While Lightfoot seems optimistic about schools reopening, the agreement still must go through the union’s process to be finalized. In statement Sunday, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey stressed there will not be a final agreement until rank-and-file members weigh in.

“It is extremely important to note that, despite what the mayor and her CPS team claim, this is not an agreement between the Board and the Union,” wrote Sharkey. “Any agreement is your choice, and your choice alone, to make.”

Sharkey reiterated this position during a members meeting Sunday afternoon.

The potential progress in Chicago comes as President Biden called the delay in reopening schools a part of a “national emergency” as the pandemic continues. Teachers unions in Philadelphia and San Francisco are among those balancing resuming in person learning with safety concerns. 


Meanwhile, CTU and others in Chicago bid farewell to former president and long time organizer Karen Lewis. Prior to becoming CTU president, Lewis taught chemistry for over 20 years. 

Remembered as a fierce fighter and advocate, Lewis touched the lives of many beyond the over 25,000 members of the union she led. In its statement, CTU said Lewis didn’t just lead their movement, she was the movement. 

Credited with galvanizing the union after she took over in 2010, Lewis led the first teachers strike in 25 years. The 2012 Chicago teachers strike galvanized a new wave of teacher activism including the Red for Ed national movement according to WBEZ.

Anoa Changa is a movement journalist and retired attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Anoa on Instagram and Twitter @thewaywithanoa.


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