Lori Lightfoot Hails Reopening of Chicago Schools as Bitter Standoff With Union Ends

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hailed the return of in-person school classes after leaders of the teachers' union approved a plan to operate under COVID-19 safety protocols, ending a bitter fight that canceled lessons for five days.

The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates voted on Monday night for a deal that will allow students in the nation's third-largest school district to return to classes on Wednesday.

The plan also set metrics that would trigger the closing of schools amid further COVID-19 outbreaks.

Many teachers had been reluctant to return to in-person lessons because of concerns about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Chicago Public Schools rejected their proposed return to remote instruction, arguing that it was detrimental to students, and responded by locking teachers out of online accounts.

The deal still requires approval from the union's roughly 25,000 members.

CPS notified parents in the mostly low-income district of about 350,000 students that classes would resume on Wednesday, while teachers will report to schools on Tuesday.

At a news conference on Monday evening, Lightfoot thanked her team, district officials, parents and teachers.

"CPS put a great proposal on the table that both bargaining teams discussed in detail throughout the day," she said. "Now we'll be able to get teachers back into the classroom tomorrow, and our kids back on Wednesday."

She added: "Switching completely back to remote learning again without a public health reason to do so would have created and amplified the social, emotional and economic turmoil that far too many are our families are facing.

"We can never forget the impact on the lives of our children and our families. They must always be front and center. Every decision has to be made with them at the forefront."

Lightfoot also downplayed talk of winners and losers in the dispute.

"Some will ask who won and who lost. No one wins when our students are out of a place where they can learn the best and where they're safest," she said.

"After being out of school for four days in a row, I'm sure many students will be excited to get back into the classroom with their teachers and peers and their parents and guardians can now breathe a much deserved sigh of relief."

In a separate news conference, union leaders acknowledged that the agreement was not "perfect" and expressed their continued desire for an opt-out testing program, a key demand they were not able to secure.

"It's not a perfect agreement, but it's certainly something we can hold our heads up about, partly because it was so difficult to get," said CTU president Jesse Sharkey. "It does include some important things which are going to help safeguard ourselves in our schools."

The union's vice president, Stacy Davis Gates, called the agreement "the only modicum of safety" for anyone who sets foot in a Chicago public school.

CTU officers, senior staff and counsel report on tonight’s House of Delegates vote and bargaining with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools...

"The Chicago Teacher's Union once again, in this pandemic, has had to create the infrastructure for safety and accountability in our school communities," she said.

"What parents don't know is that without the workers, the school workers in your building, you don't have anything."

Davis Gates also decried Lightfoot as "unfit" to lead, describing the mayor as "on a one-woman kamikaze mission to destroy our public schools."

Asked about the stalemate at a briefing on Monday, White House Press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden had remained in touch with Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker during the negotiations.

"We have been very clear, publicly and privately, that we want to see schools open," Psaki said.

Lori Lightfoot and Chicago teachers union
Left, members of the Chicago Teachers Union protest in-person learning in Chicago public schools on January 10, 2022, in Chicago, Illinois. Right, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during the ceremony for the Obama Presidential Center at Jackson Park on September 28, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images/AFP

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