Banners in support of the elementary school teachers hang outside Brentano Elementary School as teachers instruct virtual classes during a protest against returning to in-person teaching. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
About 40% of Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff who were expected to report to schools Monday for the first time during the pandemic didn’t show up for in-person work, officials said Tuesday, accusing the Chicago Teachers Union of pressuring its members to defy CPS’s orders.
In all, about half of teachers and three-quarters of school-based support staff in preschool and special education cluster programs returned to classrooms as expected, accounting for 60% of those 4,400 employees scheduled to go back to specific schools, the district announced. Officials didn’t immediately provide data on another estimated 1,400 employees that were supposed to return but work at more than one school. The first two days after winter break last school year saw about 83% of employees present.
In a sign of the increasing tension between the school system and the teachers union, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said Tuesday that the number of employees who reported to work was “significant considering the fact that they were pressured by the union not to return.”
Those who didn’t show up and elected to continue teaching remotely were sent emails telling them their absence was unexcused. Jackson said those who continue to ignore their orders will face progressive discipline according to the union contract, but that it’s in nobody’s interest to fire teachers.
“We are optimistic that more staff will report to work in the coming days,” Jackson said, though indications from the staff suggested otherwise.
CTU: Buildings not safe
In a morning news conference with reporters, Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said principals are looking for more input on the district’s reopening plan. A survey of 300 principals and assistant principals conducted this week found only 29% felt they’d received enough support from the district, and only 17% agreed that opening in January or February was the right decision, LaRaviere said.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said on the same call that “there are a tremendous amount of concerns and many of our members are not feeling safe at all, are feeling more anxious and scared than ever.” Those who were no-shows Monday cited health and safety concerns and a lack of trust in the school district’s coronavirus mitigation protocols.
In a survey conducted by the union, 69% of members who did return reported conditions in schools that were “not adequate,” Sharkey said. Among staff concerns, Sharkey said, were “filthy” buildings, those in “various states of disrepair” and either missing or inadequate air purifiers.
But in a separate news conference Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged those outside the school system to go see for themselves what measures have been put in place.
Lightfoot said CPS, working with the Chicago Department of Public Health, has “gone over and above” what’s been done at private, charter and area Catholic schools.
“We can’t write off the school year, as some have said to me privately, and which inflamed me,” Lightfoot said. “Writing off the school year is writing off children’s lives.”
She also said she understands teacher concerns, and that’s why, she said, there have been “49 meetings and counting” with union leadership.
But Sharkey said the reopening won’t work if “the district simply continues to dictate to us.”