Chicago mayor and teachers still at odds over COVID protocols

CHICAGO (AP) – Negotiations resumed on Saturday to resolve a standoff between Chicago school officials and the city’s teachers’ union over COVID-19 precautions that canceled three days of classes but war Public words between union leaders and the Chicago mayor showed little sign of easing.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot categorically rejected the union’s latest proposal which its leaders described as a solution. The union relaxed its earlier demand for general compulsory testing, but maintained that teachers and children should not return to class until mid-January.

“CTU leadership, you don’t listen,” Lightfoot said. “The safest and safest place for children is school. Students should be back in person as soon as possible. This is what parents want. This is what science supports. We will not give in.

The brutal response came less than an hour after leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union unveiled what they saw as a compromise to resume distance education on Wednesday and in-person education on January 18. The union also supported a random screening program that students could opt out of. rather than their initial preference for mandatory testing.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Lightfoot’s repeated opposition to the use of district-wide distance education and any testing program that requires students to withdraw rather than drop out. voluntary “does not count”.

Teachers agree that in-person teaching is better for their students, but everyone is forced to make tough decisions during a pandemic, Sharkey said.

“As educators we try to use all the tools we have to secure our community and educate children,” he said, lambasting anyone who suggests union members show a lack of interest in children. “It’s hard to believe the mayor really believes in it. Do you know how teachers see this? We see it as intimidation.

The union, which voted this week to return to online teaching, told teachers not to show up at schools from Wednesday while talks took place. The move just two days after the students returned from winter vacation prompted district officials to cancel classes in the district of about 350,000 students for three days, and many principals have warned parents that it was unlikely that they will be able to hold classes on Monday.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez and Lightfoot both argued that moving the entire district to distance education was not a start, preferring to reserve this step in response to infections within a individual school.

The union’s proposal maintained a trigger to end face-to-face instruction if COVID-19 rates in the city rise to certain levels.

Lightfoot is also in favor of an opt-in testing program contrary to the union’s position, saying parents should be the ones making this decision for their children. Other sticking points include measures to trigger individual school closings.

School districts across the country have faced the same issues, with most choosing to stay open while stepping up virus testing and fine-tuning protocols in response to the evolving pandemic. But a growing number of US districts, including some large school systems, have returned to distance learning as infections soar and staff are on the sidelines.

The union blasted the district for not doing enough, such as botching a testing program and maintaining unreliable data on infections in schools. They called for similar demands on a security deal put in place last year after fierce debate. However, the district says the pandemic is different now and requires a different response, especially as 91% of school staff are vaccinated.

Attendance was low in schools earlier this week, with thousands of students quarantined or choosing to stay home to avoid exposure. Teachers widely said they could not access distance learning tools from their homes this week.

Yet many parents had to scramble again to make last minute arrangements for their children. Others said being out of school is riskier for their children than being in classrooms where masks and social distancing are used.

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Associated Press editor Sophia Tareen contributed to this report.

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Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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