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Chicago public schools cancel return of in-class learning, as teachers' union prepares to strike

Union-backed teachers ignored Mayor Lori Lightfoot's order to return Monday to classrooms.

February 1, 2021 7:24am

Updated: February 1, 2021 11:03am

The Chicago Public School system and the Chicago Teachers Union failed over the weekend to reach an agreement on how and when to reopen schools for children in grades K-8, forcing classrooms to remain shuttered Monday.

The union-backed teachers ignored Mayor Lori Lightfoot's order to return Monday to classrooms.

"Those who don't report to work ... we will have to take action," the Democratic mayor said.  

The sides were supposed to meet Sunday to negotiate, but did not after both parties began launching public accusations against each other.

 A teachers' strike appears imminent and would pause learning for roughly 300,000 students.

Elementary- and middle-school teachers and children are required to report to virtual class on Monday.

If the teachers refuse to teach, they will be locked out of remote work moving forward and no longer paid, said officials with the public school system. The president of the teachers union, Jesse Sharkey, says the union will stage a walkout if lockouts happen.

Schools chief Janice Jackson said a deal is within reach but also acknowledged being "incredibly frustrated" over the parties having yet to figure out how to move forward.

"Why should Chicago stand out when everybody else across the country has been able to safely do this?" she asked "Why should CPS stand out when private and parochial schools in Chicago have been operating since the beginning of the school year?"

The union is fighting for a number of measures, including vaccine prioritization for teachers and a specified health metric to determine school closures. 

Jackson says she agrees that teachers should receive the vaccine as soon as possible but that the current system of distribution is in place for a reason.