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Chicago Teachers Union A Step Closer To Strike Vote Over Concerns About COVID Safety In CPS Schools

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Teachers Union is one step closer to a strike vote over what they call the unsafe return to school buildings.

This comes on the same day hundreds of pre-kindergarten and cluster teachers returned to school buildings, and a week before some students will head back.

On Monday night, teachers told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov they are ready to walk.

Some teachers on Monday refused to return to classroom buildings, and opted to teach outside instead as an act of protest - with parents' support.

"I've been standing here for just half an hour, and I can't stand it anymore," said Chicago Public Schools parent Nancy Salgado.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) is one of 36 aldermen who as of late Monday night had signed a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson, stating CPS is not ready for teachers and students to return to buildings.

"The plan still feels half-baked," La Spata said. "It still feels incomplete."

The CTU said, depending on the classroom, being masked and teaching students won't work. They also argue school buildings are unsafe, and that the safety measures the district says it has implemented – such as air purifiers – aren't enough for every building and classroom.

CPS is planning to bring preschool and some special education students back to classrooms next Monday, Jan. 11, with teachers and staff scheduled to be back in school buildings today to begin preparing for in-person classes.

In-person classes for Kindergarten through eighth grades are scheduled to resume Feb. 1, with those teachers scheduled to return to classrooms on Jan. 25 to prepare.

Last week, Chicago Teachers Union leaders told members to resist returning. That is not an option for one resource teacher, who went back under duress and who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation.

"I, like many other teachers in the district, felt that we had no choice – even though we know it's unsafe," she said.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton issued a statement Sunday that read in part, "The CTU has not identified any area where the district's plan falls short of public health guidelines and the CTU's last-minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning."

By Kozlov's math, that 77,000 figure represents only about a third of all students – who could then later opt to go back to remote learning.

But the CTU's so-called "tactics" include telling members they will call for a strike vote as early as mid-January if CPS does not change its return-to-buildings policy.

"I hope we don't come to a strike," said CPS teacher Elana Jacobs. "I hope that CPS will negotiate."

But many teachers – including Jacobs – said they will walk, if needed, a mere 15 months after the last CTU strike ended.

Still, she said a strike would hit her hard financially.

"Absolutely," Jacobs said, "and I don't take it lightly."

The same goes for the resource teacher who did not want to be named.

"It would be a terrible strain on my family, and I think that CPS knows that, and they're using it against us – even though the reason we would be striking is for safety," she said.

Kozlov told many teachers represented by the CTU who were supposed to return on Monday, but didn't, also got letters stating further action would be taken if they do not report to the schools on Tuesday.

CPS leaders say the school are safe to return to, the plan is adequate, and they will address more concerns Tuesday morning.

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