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Chicago students headed back to class after city reaches deal with teachers union

Classes have been canceled for four days after the union voted for remote learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic and omicron variant.
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Chicago public school students are set to return to class Wednesday after the city and the teachers union reached an agreement with the district over Covid-19 issues, officials announced Monday night.

Classes in the nation’s third-largest public school district have been canceled since last week in the disagreement.

Monday, the fourth day of canceled classes, the Chicago Teachers Union said there was a vote to suspend the “remote work action,” and Chicago Public Schools said there was an agreement.

Staff will report Tuesday, and in-person classes will resume Wednesday, the school district said.

The union’s action, approved by 73 percent of members, called for remote instruction until “cases substantially subside” or union leaders approve an agreement for safety protocols with the district.

The district, which has rejected districtwide remote learning, responded by locking teachers out of remote teaching systems and docked pay. Classes were canceled, which left parents trying to make arrangements during the shutdown.

The teachers union’s House of Delegates on Monday voted to suspend the remote work action.

The union’s rank-and-file membership must still vote on the proposed agreement, the CTU said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday night that in-person learning “is far superior” to remote classes, and the city has argued that on campus is the safest place for students to be.

“No parent should be forced to make the choice between earning an income to take care of their family, or being home to monitor their kids on remote learning,” she said. “That is a choice we should never force parents into, absent an emergency that did not manifest itself this time.”

The teachers union had said the city had not done enough to ensure that students and teachers can return safely.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said the agreement included “some really good things” and mentioned expanded testing and contact tracing.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the union had sought improved mitigation procedures and testing, and metrics about when to switch to remote learning.

Under the proposed deal, testing "will significantly increase" in schools and additional rapid tests available in schools, the union said.

It also details when a school can go to remote due to a spike in cases, like when 40 percent of students are in isolation or quarantine, and there is a commitment for high-quality masks, it said.

“It’s not a perfect agreement, but it’s something that we can hold our heads up about,” Sharkey said Monday night.