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(CHICAGO) – More than 350,000 Chicago public school students are expected to resume in-person learning on Wednesday after a tentative agreement was reached between the school district and the Chicago Teachers Union to strengthen classroom safety amid ‘a wave of COVID-19 infections.
A deal was struck Monday night to end nearly a week of classroom and distance learning cancellations. Tuesday marked the fifth day that students left classrooms after a long vacation break.
The more than 25,000 teachers and staff in the country’s third largest school district are due to return to their schools on Tuesday to prepare for the reopening of classrooms.
Negotiations between the CTU and the district focused on demands to expand student testing for the virus and create a package of measures designed to trigger school closures and the return of distance learning if coronavirus infections continue to skyrocket. The talks have at times become controversial, with union leaders accusing Mayor Lori Lightfoot of “intimidating” teachers in classrooms and school district officials accusing the union of organizing an “illegal walkout”.
The two sides filed complaints with a state labor commission.
“Some will ask who won and who lost,” Lightfoot said Monday night. “No one wins when our students are not where they can learn best and where they are safest. After leaving school for four consecutive days, I am sure many students will be delighted to come back to school. the classroom with their teachers and peers. And their parents and guardians can now breathe a much needed sigh of relief. “
Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said the district was committed to keeping its students, teachers and staff safe, and said the negotiations forged “some very good things.”
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said on Monday the union had fought to improve classroom safety for students and teachers.
“I’m finally proud that the Chicago Teachers Union has taken a stand,” Sharkey said at a press conference. “We’re going to continue to do what’s right as we navigate this area. It’s not a perfect deal but we’ll hold our heads up high because it was hard to come by.”
The agreement also includes new incentives to increase the number of substitute teachers in the district and establishes measures that will incentivize a return to distance learning, but for individual schools, not for protocols at scale. district requested by the CTU.
The district also offered to spend around $ 100 million to implement a safety plan that includes air purifiers for all classrooms. The district said it will provide KN95 masks to all teachers and students.
The union’s governing body, made up of 700 members, voted by a margin of almost 2 to 1 – 63% to 27% – to end distance education. Base members have until later this week to vote on whether to ratify the deal.
Like Chicago, school districts across the country are reeling from an increase in COVID-19 cases triggered by the highly contagious variant of omicron.
The Los Angeles Unified School District plans to reopen schools for in-person learning on Tuesday, although some schools in the nation’s second-largest school district have chosen to delay reopening due to an increase in reported cases of COVID- 19.
LAUSD officials are demanding that all students and staff be tested for COVID-19 before the first day of class. The district said Monday that at least 65,630 of those tests came back positive.
The Philadelphia School District announced Friday that 46 schools will switch to virtual learning as the omicron variant and a winter storm took its toll on staff.
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