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CPS Students Return To In Person Class As Rank-And-File Teachers Accepts New COVID Safety Agreement

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) -- Rank-and-file teachers with the Chicago Teachers Union late Wednesday backed an agreement dictating COVID-19 safety protocols in the nation's third-largest school district.

Wednesday's vote will keep kids in classrooms after five days of canceled classes due to a standoff with the city over remote learning and virus testing.

The union's full membership vote followed tentative approval on Monday by union leadership. Union officials urged teachers to back it despite the frustration that the district wouldn't grant demands for widespread coronavirus testing or commit to districtwide remote learning during surges.

The agreement passed with Passed by 55.54%. Just under 70% of total membership voted - just shy of 19,000 teachers cast ballots.

The new agreement includes allowing individual schools to go back to remote learning, requiring the district to provide KN-95 masks to students and staff, and letting schools decide if they want to reinstate a student health screener.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a statement on behalf of herself and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez following the deal.

Here's the full statement from the Mayor's office:

"We are pleased we have come to an agreement that guarantees predictability and stability for the rest of the school year. We all agree we must prioritize the health and well-being of everyone in our school communities including our kids, families, and staff. The science tells us that the safest place for our students is to be in the classroom, which is why, in addition to the over $100 million already spent on COVID mitigation, CPS is providing KN95 masks, augmenting its every school-every week testing program, and strengthening its contact tracing approach. CPS principals will continue to work with their school-based safety teams to make data-informed decisions in the best interests of students and families. We encourage families to get their children vaccinated and to consent to regular testing. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the entire school community."

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey released this statement:

"This vote is a clear show of dissatisfaction with the boss. It's outrageous that teachers, school nurses, counselors and more had to endure a week of being locked out by the mayor just to get a commitment from her bargaining team to provide every student with an N95 mask in a pandemic.

"This agreement covers only a portion of the safety guarantees that every one of our school communities deserve. Put bluntly, we have a boss who does not know how to negotiate, does not know how to hear real concerns and is not willing to respect our rank and file enough to listen to us when we tell her we need more protection. Our members' vote today represents a union's, and a city's, frustration with a mayor that has simmered since the beginning of this pandemic. We've been fortunate that Governor Pritzker has led responsibly, including an offer of hundreds of thousands of SHIELD tests to the district, that the mayor rejected for weeks. But you deserve more, and the families you serve deserve more, and we will continue fighting for that.

"I'm extremely proud of the courage and sacrifice of our members, who took a stand in working remotely for four days in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our school communities. This agreement does give us the enforceable right to additional protections, and we have every intention of organizing at the school level across the city to continue protecting the safety of our students and their families."

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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