Chicago Teachers Union approves deal to begin return to classrooms

The Union and city officials have been sparring for weeks over the terms of their return
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Chicago Teachers Union Votes To Defy In-Person Classroom Return
Chicago Teachers Union Votes To Defy In-Person Classroom Return
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Officials in Chicago announced early Wednesday morning that the Chicago Teachers Union has approved a deal with the city's school district, the third largest in the nation, to begin getting school-aged children back to in-person class amid the pandemic.

On Tuesday, about 25,000 members of the union voted on the terms of the deal, ending the possibility of an immediate strike by the teachers.

Negotiations over the terms of the deal have taken months and in recent weeks became a showdown between city officials and the powerful union over health-safety issues. The deal includes more vaccinations for teachers and a slower return for students that initially proposed.

Nearly 13,700 members of the union voted in favor of the deal, and just over 6,500 voted against it. Union leaders described the current terms of the deal as the "absolute limit to which CPS was willing to go at the bargaining table to guarantee a minimum number of guardrails for any semblance of safety in schools."

Union President Jesse Sharkey wrote in an email to union members: "This plan is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families. The fact that CPS could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparations in schools is a disgrace."

The first wave of students to return to classrooms include those in pre-K and special education programs. They will return on Thursday, though parents will have the option to keep their children home. The two student groups had already returned to classrooms for several weeks last month, prior to the breakdown of union negotiations.

In the coming weeks, students in kindergarten through eighth grade will return for limited classroom instruction. For now, there is no plan to return high schoolers to classrooms. Chicago public school students – nearly 340,000 of them – have been fully remote since last March.

As the one year mark of the exodus from school buildings approaches, Chicago Public Schools officials and leaders of the city insist it is time to return children, safely, to their classrooms. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also argued that remote learning is directly disadvantaging the city's black and hispanic students, who make of the majority of the district.