CPS MAY TRY PART-TIME RE­TURN TO CLASS­ROOMS IN FALL: CTU

CPS’ fall plan, ex­pected to re­lease Fri­day, might in­clude re­mote and in-per­son learn­ing, CTU says

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - NADER ISSA AND FRAN SPIELMAN RE­PORT,

Chicago Public Schools of­fi­cials have dis­cussed with the Chicago Teach­ers Union a hy­brid plan that would in­clude both in-per­son and re­mote learn­ing, union lead­ers told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thurs­day, a day be­fore the district is ex­pected to re­veal its pro­posal for the fall.

Mayor Lori Light­foot has said the plan will kick off a month-long dis­cus­sion with par­ents, teach­ers and stu­dents about what would be needed to keep fam­i­lies safe in the fall, with a fi­nal de­ci­sion on in-per­son in­struc­tion com­ing near the end of Au­gust.

Though Light­foot and CPS are sav­ing the specifics of that plan for Fri­day, putting stu­dents in class­rooms some days and at home oth­ers would mark a con­tin­ued ad­just­ment for hun­dreds of thou­sands of chil­dren months af­ter schools closed be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

“The health and safety of our stu­dents and staff is para­mount, and our plan­ning for the fall will be guided by the best avail­able data and guid­ance from state and lo­cal health of­fi­cials,” the mayor’s of­fice said in a state­ment, call­ing Fri­day’s highly an­tic­i­pated an­nounce­ment a “pre­lim­i­nary frame­work.”

“We are speak­ing reg­u­larly with union lead­er­ship as we work to de­velop the strong­est pos­si­ble plans for the fall, and we will con­tinue to en­gage a va­ri­ety of stake­hold­ers to en­sure our plans best meet their needs,” the mayor’s of­fice said.

Both the city and the union ac­knowl­edge full re­mote learn­ing isn’t a re­li­able al­ter­na­tive to nor­mal school­ing no mat­ter the plan­ning that goes into it. Still, dis­tricts around the coun­try, in­clud­ing the na­tion’s sec­ond­largest in Los An­ge­les, have an­nounced they will pro­vide re­mote ed­u­ca­tion to start the school year. New York City and Chicago — the first- and third-largest dis­tricts — have not com­mit­ted to do­ing so, how­ever. NYC Mayor Bill de Bla­sio an­nounced last week a hy­brid model that could be sim­i­lar to plans CPS dis­cussed with the union.

But hav­ing ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents in school together with­out ap­pro­pri­ate safety pre­cau­tions is a non-starter for the CTU. The union this week called for a fully re­mote start to the fall be­cause of those health and safety con­cerns, set­ting up an­other po­ten­tial show­down with Light­foot months af­ter a his­toric 11-day strike last year.

Sharkey said an­other walk­out isn’t a first choice for the union, but he ques­tioned whether the district has fully planned for a safe re­turn.

“Our frus­tra­tion and our anx­i­ety at this point is we don’t have a plan to ne­go­ti­ate, a plan to re­act to, a plan to make bet­ter,” Sharkey said Thurs­day. “We have ideas, and the ideas we’ve heard thus far in­clude a blended ex­pe­ri­ence, a hy­brid ex­pe­ri­ence. But it’s very short on de­tails at this point.”

Sharkey said stag­gered sched­ules are a good way to make so­cial dis­tanc­ing eas­ier in the city’s of­ten-crowded school build­ings, but only if that’s ac­com­pa­nied with nurses tak­ing daily tem­per­a­ture checks at ev­ery school, con­sis­tent dis­in­fect­ing of build­ings, uni­ver­sal masks and proper so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

“There’s a logic to a hy­brid model,” he said. “It’s not a crazy idea, which is that this is a virus that’s passed along when peo­ple are in close phys­i­cal prox­im­ity, talk­ing and dis­cussing things. And that’s a lot of what we do at school. So you’ve got to fig­ure out a way to have fewer peo­ple in the build­ing.

“A lot of the idea be­hind hy­brid is you’ve got stu­dents al­ter­nat­ing be­tween in-per­son and re­mote learn­ing, which means at any given time you can have fewer peo­ple in the class­room . ... It’s not that there isn’t a logic to what CPS is say­ing or what New York is say­ing — there is. It’s just that the time right now, we don’t yet have a clear enough cri­te­ria, and the way it looks in the coun­try right now, we don’t think the con­di­tions are right to start back in per­son.”

Sharkey likened an un­safe re­turn to class­rooms to run­ning into a burn­ing build­ing, and raised the pos­si­bil­ity that teach­ers could refuse to re­turn to work if they don’t feel safe. The idea of re­fus­ing a re­turn to work was broached at a vir­tual union town hall this week at­tended by a few thou­sand mem­bers — a frac­tion of the full rank-and-file mem­ber­ship.

Asked whether teach­ers are will­ing to go back out on strike if their de­mands for the fall aren’t met, Sharkey said, “I think this is go­ing to depend a lot on what things look like and whether we can get clear an­swers and whether there’s re­spon­sive­ness.”

“If the an­swer to all those ques­tions is no, then I think it’s not rea­son­able to ex­pect for par­ents of stu­dents and for staff ... [not to] worry about whether or not we’re be­ing asked to go into a burn­ing build­ing,” he said. “Be­cause if we are, then that’s where I think you get in a sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple could refuse to go. We’re a ways from that yet.”

“WE ARE SPEAK­ING REG­U­LARLY WITH UNION LEAD­ER­SHIP AS WE WORK TO DE­VELOP THE STRONG­EST POS­SI­BLE PLANS FOR THE FALL, AND WE WILL CON­TINUE TO EN­GAGE A VA­RI­ETY OF STAKE­HOLD­ERS TO EN­SURE OUR PLANS BEST MEET THEIR NEEDS.” STATE­MENT BY THE MAYOR’S OF­FICE

FILE PHOTO

Stu­dents lis­ten dur­ing class last fall at Roswell B. Ma­son El­e­men­tary School on the South Side.SUN-TIMES

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