Chicago Public Schools backs down on threat of locking teachers out, while union says it's 'winning'

Chicago mother of 3 shares frustration of mayor amid in-person learning battle

Sarah Sachen, a mother of three children in Chicago public schools, says she will ‘continue to speak out because she is not afraid to advocate for her child’s education.’

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has backed down on its threat to lock K-8 teachers out of their remote learning tools if they failed to show up at its facilities this week to prepare for the return of in-person classes. 

The withdrawal was announced in a joint statement issued Monday night by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson — and, for now, appears to avert a potential strike from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

Both sides are in a dispute over how to reopen schools safely during the coronavirus pandemic. The union previously threatened that its members would picket if they were denied access to programs they have been using to instruct students remotely. 

“We have reached another important milestone today in our efforts to provide in-person learning for our students in the Chicago Public Schools system. We have secured agreement on one other open issue and made substantial progress on a framework that we hope will address the remaining issues,” the statement said. “We are calling for a 48-hour cooling off period that will hopefully lead to a final resolution on all open issues. 

 A sign hangs on a fence outside of Burr Elementary School on Jan.25 in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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“As a result of the progress we have made, and as a gesture of good faith, for now, teachers will retain access to their Google Suite,” it added. “Students will remain virtual Tuesday and Wednesday and we will update the CPS school community as there are further developments.” 

The district previously had planned on resuming in-person classes for K-8 students Monday. 

The statement didn’t elaborate on what open issue was resolved, but both the district and union are still negotiating over teacher vaccinations, a health metric to determine when schools could close again if coronavirus cases rise, a testing program for staff and faculty and working-from-home arrangements, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.  

CTU President Jesse Sharkey, in a message to its members, hailed the school’s decision to stand down on its threat of locking out teachers. 

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“We are not currently locked out because of your unity, your commitment to your school communities, and your fearless solidarity,” he said. 

“We are literally working to steer CPS to a more responsible path to reopen schools safely, and we are winning,” he said. “We want to keep working remotely as we bargain an agreement to return to our classrooms safely.” 

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