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"Our schools are safe": Chicago mayor orders teachers to be in the classroom starting Monday

Chicago officials hold update on reopening schools
Chicago mayor orders teachers to return to class amid ongoing debate with union 38:42

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson on Sunday insisted that teachers return to the classroom on Monday amid the heated situation between CPS and the union representing thousands of educators over the debate of resuming in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Chicago Teachers Union has been telling teachers to stay remote, out of concern for safety during the pandemic. Therefore, 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 K-8 students should be returning to in-person learning on Tuesday, according to CBS Chicago.  

The mayor said all pre-K to eighth grade teachers are to return to the classroom on Monday, unless they have received a special accommodation. If they don't comply, "we're going to have to take action," Lightfoot said, but didn't elaborate.

Lightfoot said multiple times on Sunday that "our schools are safe" and told the CTU leadership needs to return to the bargaining table. The mayor also said that "remote learning is failing too many of our kids" and accused the CTU of lacking a sense of urgency in having students return to in-person learning.

"We absolutely need to get a deal done," she said. She pledged that she and her team would stay up all night until a deal has been reached. "CTU, please come back to the table — today."

Jackson said that without an agreement between CPS and CTU, access to the remote-learning programs offered through Google Suite will be cut off starting at the end of business on Monday.

Lightfoot said that the public school system and the union have had 70 formal meetings since June. The mayor also described the model for safe in-person learning follows guidelines from the 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, as well as local health officials.

"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," Lightfoot said.

According to CBS Chicago, CPS and the CTU on Saturday reached tentative agreements on four areas: health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing and health and safety committees. 

On Sunday, Lightfoot said there has been $100 million in investments to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at its schools, including health screenings, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, PPE, disinfecting, social distancing and contact tracing.

Chicago teachers union refuses mayor's orders to return to classrooms 02:22

Jackson appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" earlier Sunday, saying it's 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 "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret 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."

Meanwhile, many parents are torn.

Bridgett White's dining room doubles as a classroom — and she said she's "very frustrated" by the current situation between CPS and CTU. Her daughter Brianna is in seventh grade and her son Tristan is in fifth. Neither have been back to school since March 2020.

"You got this one side saying one thing, you have this other side saying another thing, and you are in the middle," White told "CBS Weekend News" on Saturday.

This week, the CDC said in-person classes can be held safely, and President Biden said he wants all schools in the country to reopen in the next three months. But what's happening in Chicago shows just how difficult that might be.

"As a parent you are waiting day by day," White said. "Is this the day my child won't have any learning at all?"

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