Chicago Schools Cite Progress in Talks for In-Person Return

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Chicago officials said they made “substantial progress” in negotiations with the teachers’ union over a return to in-person learning and will allow teachers to work remotely through Wednesday as a “gesture of good faith” while the two sides sort out the remaining issues.

“We have secured agreement on one other open issue and made substantial progress on a framework that we hope will address the remaining issues,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson said in an emailed statement on Monday. “We are calling for a 48-hour cooling off period that will hopefully lead to a final resolution on all open issues.”

The announcement comes after some progress was made over the weekend on health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing and safety committees. But the sides had remained divided over other issues, including comprehensive vaccinations, ahead of the scheduled return to in-person teaching this week. Teachers had been told they must report to their schools Monday or they would be locked out of the technology needed to teach remotely.

Chicago has become a flash point in the struggle to reopen schools across the country as the union defied the district’s orders to return to classrooms last week, forcing officials to delay students’ move to in-person learning. Getting students back in the classroom is critical to jump starting the nation’s economic recovery. President Joe Biden is pushing to resume in-person learning in his first 100 days, but teachers’ unions and districts are at odds over how to do so safely.

With talks continuing, the progress signals Chicago may avoid its second teachers’ strike in as many school years. The union and Chicago Public Schools have been negotiating for months over how and when to return to in-person instruction after moving to remote learning for more than 340,000 students in March.

“We don’t want a lock-out,” Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said in a statement on Monday. “We want to keep working remotely as we bargain an agreement to return to our classrooms safely. And we’re one step closer to that goal today, because management has agreed to stay at the table rather than escalating conflict or locking out educators.”

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