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Mayor Lightfoot Says Teachers Are To Be In School On Monday Or 'We're Going To Have To Take Action;' Students To Be Remote Until Tuesday

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference Sunday that all teachers who have not received a special accommodation are expected to be back in school on Monday – and if they aren't, "we're going to have to take action."

But the Chicago Teachers Union is telling teachers to stay remote, out of concern for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the Chicago Public Schools said adequate staffing cannot be assured, so students will still be learning remotely on Monday -- with the expectation that students in pre-kindergarten, special education, and kindergarten-through-eighth grade students should be returning to in-person learning on Tuesday.

A source told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov that if all teachers who are supposed to be in school do not show up and stay remote, lockout from Google classrooms will begin, on a rolling basis, beginning mid-day. CPS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson indicated at a news conference with Mayor Lightfoot that such would happen.

"Teachers and staff that fail to report to schools will have their access to Google Suite, will have their access cut of at the end of the business day," she said.

CTU Deputy General Counsel Thad Goodchild said such a move "would be both an unfair labor practice and a violation of our contract."

"I hope they don't lock us out," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. "If they do lock us out, the next step is to call on our delegates and make a decision on what comes next."

Mayor Lightfoot reiterated that CPS has had 70 formal meetings with the Chicago Teachers Union since June, and she said Jackson has "moved mountains" to ensure schools are safe.

She said the model for safe in-person learning follows guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois and Chicago departments of public health, and is supported by health experts -- from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

The mayor also said other school systems outside of CPS have proven safe during the pandemic.

"Our schools are safe. Our schools are safe. We know that because we have studied what's happened in other school systems in our city – 40,000-plus Archdiocese, charter, and other public schools that have had some form of in-person learning since the fall," she said.

Mayor Lightfoot also said remote learning has left many students falling through the cracks – and Black and Latinx students are suffering in particular.

The CTU has said it does not believe it is safe to return to in-person learning due to the risk of coronavirus infection.

But Jackson accused CTU leadership of "ignoring inconvenient truths and inventing reasons why our students can't return to the classroom."

On Saturday, CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union reached tentative agreements on four areas: health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing, and health and safety committees. But there are still many areas for which there is no agreement, and Mayor Lightfoot said the CTU has not shown up all day for bargaining.

"We've been waiting all day today for in person negotiations to begin. We have been waiting on the CTU, and I have been directing my team every hour on the hour: 'Where are they? why haven't they come back to us, and what is going on?" Mayor Lightfoot said.

But the union pointed the finger back at CPS. In a tweet, CTU said: "The CPS bargaining team was instructed not to attend negotiations today unless our teachers, clinicians, PSRPs, nurses, librarians and other rank-and-file educators were prepared to make major concessions."

CPS said that was not true.

"Fact check: Our bargaining team was told by CTU leadership that they were unavailable to meet until they could develop a response to our most recent offer. Our team has been standing by all day," CPS tweeted in turn.

Mayor Lightfoot said she is willing to stay up all night to hammer out an agreement, but "the CTU needs to come back."

"I know we can get a deal done," Mayor Lightfoot said. "I still think we can get a deal done today."

Both Lightfoot and CTU President Jesse Sharkey said they had a cordial conversation on Sunday. Sharkey said at a news conference via Zoom that he is confident that an agreement could be found.

But CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said the fact remains that there are issues that leave doubts about safety in schools. In particular, she said there are no guardrails for a procedure as to how a school can be shut down or dealt with in the event of a problem with COVID-19.

She also said CPS is dictating the terms of the reopening plan.

"No one that's a stakeholder in the Chicago Public Schools should believe that there should be a unilateral implementation of a plan in the middle of a pandemic," Gates said.

Gates said despite the insistence that schools are safe, there have been 124 actionable COVID incidents since Jan. 9 at CPS, and nearly 1,000 since March of last year.

The CTU said one sticking point is how the district can accommodate staff living with medically fragile family members or loved ones.

"How do you concede accommodations for a teacher whose husband has cancer?" Gates said.

Gates also said remote learning needs to be made better, given that the vast majority of CPS families have chosen it.

Union officials also said CPS needs a "credible plan" to get teachers vaccinated, which they said is not happening in any organized way now.

When asked if they would be negotiating with the mayor and CPS on Monday, Gates said it was the union that was waiting for CPS.

"The Zoom is still open. We'll wait for their arrival," Gates said.

Meantime, the fragile relationship with parents is also being tested.

"This lack of stability is devastating for CPS families across our city," said Ryan Griffin, a CPS parent and Chicago Parent Collective organizer.

"I also really want to see my friends again," added a young CPS student.

Students and families with the Chicago Parents Collective -- a grassroots organization of hundreds of CPS parents -- made their case Sunday for heading back to classrooms.

"The union looks out for teachers, the district looks out for their administrators, but who's looking out for our children and the families of CPS?" said CPS parent Carolina Barrera-Tobón, also of the Chicago Parents Collective.

Meanwhile, Joseph Williams is organizing a sick-out, protesting the lack of parent influence in all of this decision-making.

"Parents are sick and tired of being ignored by Chicago Public Schools," Williams said. "Our kids are being used as a bargaining chip in a power struggle."

Williams is encouraging parents and their students to call in sick Monday, believing at least 1,000 will participate.

Earlier Sunday, Jackson appeared on CBS News' "Face the Nation" to talk about reopening schools in Chicago, but that interview with moderator Margaret Brennan came before the announcement that students would remain remote on Monday. Jackson insisted it is safe to reopen Chicago schools with proper precautions and health safety protocols.

"We believe that we have to reopen schools. We've been closed for almost a year now. And as a school system, we're starting to see some of the effects of schools being closed," Jackson told Brennan. "Many of our students aren't logging on. We are seeing African American and Latinx students in particular being especially hard hit. And our goal is to really give every parent an option."

"Right now, we're anticipating 77,000 students, which is roughly a third of the students here in CPS, that are eligible for in-person instruction. That's twice the size of the second largest school district here in Illinois. And so reopening Chicago Public Schools is extremely important," Jackson said. "We should also note that private and parochial schools in the city have been open since August, and we learned a lot from their implementation plans and look to guidance from public health officials, as well as the CDC to make sure we had a solid plan for reopening."

A source told CBS 2 a strike could happen as early as Tuesday.

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