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CTU Says CPS Not Listening To Their COVID Concerns, Lightfoot Accuses Union Of 'Lobbing Bombs From The Cheap Seats'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The fight over COVID safety measures in Chicago Public Schools rages on, as members of the Chicago Teachers Union held a rally Wednesday morning outside Jensen Elementary Scholastic Academy in East Garfield Park to demand better protections for students and staff.

Meantime, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the union needs to come to the bargaining table in regard to a COVID safety agreement, and "not just the critique from the cheap seats."

CBS 2's Mugo Odigwe reports the union claims 10 out of 17 classrooms at Jensen are now quarantined, and they said Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn't listening to their safety concerns. The union said CPS needs to reach a COVID safety agreement with the union.

"You cannot be disappointed when you are in control. You cannot be disappointed when you have power," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

Gates was responding to the mayor telling WTTW in an interview earlier this week that she was disappointed with how CPS has handled testing and contact tracing so far this school year.

"Last winter, we put together an agreement that had people in this school community getting tested every single week. This year they haven't been tested," Gates said.

Later Wednesday, Lightfoot accused CTU of stalling in negotiations on COVID safety measures, and said union leadership needs to be at the bargaining table, not criticizing CPS through press conferences and press releases.

"Before school opened, we asked them to meet with us every single day to get a deal done. They never did that," Lightfoot said. "Obviously, we need to work together to make sure that we've got … more testing resources. We've got to get more vaccines, but we've got to do that in partnership with the CTU, and them being on the sideline and lobbing bombs from the cheap seats ain't going to get it done. They need to be at the table with us."

"We need their partnership, not just the critique from the cheap seats," she added.

CTU members said schools need more nurses, a robust vaccination plan, better contact tracing, and a solid testing plan. They claimed the district has scaled back on all of those since the start of the school year.

"There's 10,000 students in quarantine in the city of Chicago right now. Quarantine is a crude measure for trying to stop spread of COVID in our schools," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.

He said that's why a vaccination plan is needed, adding that a majority of the schools with a high number of quarantines are in certain communities.

"If you look in middle class White communities, vaccination rates are high. Places like Lincoln Park in the high 80s. Overall among White students, 55 percent," Sharkey said,

As for working class black communities, Sharkey said, "among student age population, it's 24 percent. What that means is that unvaccinated communities we have to protect by closing classrooms."

Lightfoot reiterated that she's unhappy with how CPS has handled contact tracing and testing so far this school year, and said she's directed Chicago Department of Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady to get more directly involved in helping out.

"There's no reason that the numbers [of COVID infections among CPS students] should be growing. I am not happy, and frankly deeply disappointed with the way that CPS has handled this," she said. "They need to do a much better job."

The mayor also said there's no reason that such a large number of students have been told to quarantine.

"There's very specific public health guidance that we've been following from the very beginning of the pandemic, and CPS needs to follow that guidance," she said. "Passing somebody in a hallway is not 15 minutes of substantive contact that would warrant the kind of quarantining that we've seen. So I'm confident that with CDPH more directly involved, we're going to right the ship, and we're going to move forward in a better way."


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