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CTU Accuses CPS Of Refusing To Negotiate Over Reopening; Files Complaint Over Condition Of School Ventilation Systems

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Teaches Union is accusing Chicago Public Schools officials of illegally refusing to bargain over plans for how and when to safely reopen schools, and the union is seeking an injunction to block CPS from moving forward with any reopening efforts.

"We all want to return to our students. We don't want to die doing our jobs, and we don't want to be vectors for spreading illness or death to our students and their families. Yet the mayor and CPS simply refuse to lay out and discuss their plan for returning to classrooms, when we know from their own facilities records that these buildings aren't safe," CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said in a statement. "That's cruel, and reckless, at a time when what CPS parents and families truly need is transparency and truth."

The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against CPS with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB), accusing the district of announcing plans to resume in-person learning for students in pre-K and some special education cluster programs during the second quarter of the school year without bargaining with CTU.

The union claims that's a violation of their collective bargaining agreement with CPS.

"The Board should require the CBE to bargain in good faith prior to any decision to resume face to face instruction at its schools and from resuming such instruction prior to the completion of such good faith bargaining," the union wrote in its complaint.

Earlier this month, an independent arbitrator ruled that CPS can't require clerks and other school employees to report to school buildings if it's feasible to work remotely. In its complaint with the IELRB, the union said documents subpoenaed from CPS during that arbitration process revealed "hundreds of schools had serious maintenance problems in their ventilation systems."

The union said CPS records show 60% of the district's school buildings have no central HVAC system, 50% have non-functional critical components of their ventilation systems, and only 9% have air filtration systems that meet public health recommendations for COVID-19 safety.

CTU said it sought permission to inspect 13 schools with serious maintenance issues in their ventilation systems, but CPS denied their request.

"The district claims to have initiated audits, assessments and repairs of its air circulation systems, but is now refusing to share reports detailing that alleged work, and refusing to allow the Union's certified industrial hygienist to conduct inspections of any CPS school buildings," the union wrote in its complaint.

CTU claims it has a right under the law to assess the safety conditions under which teachers and other union members are required to work, and in which students would be required to learn should in-person classes resume.

"Our youngest and most medically vulnerable students deserve safety, yet that is exactly what CPS refuses to take steps to document or guarantee," Davis Gates said.

However, CPS officials said they have already hired independent environmental hygienists to conduct air quality inspections, and will make the results of those tests public once completed before any in-person classes resume.

In response to the union's complaint, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton accused CTU of trying to "obstruct and mislead the public about the necessary planning measures needed to prepare for a potential return to safe in-person learning."

Bolton also claimed the Union has no legal or contractual right to their own inspection of school buildings.

"While the district is doing everything in its power to plan for all possible scenarios, the CTU refuses to even discuss a return to in-person learning, even as hundreds of private schools in Chicago are open. We don't know what the health situation will be in a couple of weeks time, but it would be irresponsible not to plan ahead while thousands of students miss out on valuable learning," Bolton wrote in an email. "When presented with the grave educational inequities that are occurring, CTU has demanded to further reduce instructional time for students. We will continue to work with them in the hopes they engage as productive partners and help us lift up the students and families who need our collective support."

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