CHICAGO (CBS) — In less than two weeks, Chicago Public Schools students return to full-time in-person learning, but the Chicago Teachers Union said the district still hasn’t agreed on safety standards for the upcoming school year.
It’s a major concern for teachers, with COVID cases surging again due to the more contagious delta variant.
School clerks reported to their school buildings on Wednesday, marking the first set of CPS employees back on the job for the 2021-22 school year.
Next week, teachers will return as well, but CTU leaders said there are still lots of issues that need to be resolved with the school district.
“We need commitments to vaccinate. We need commitments on social distancing. We need commitments on health metrics. And we need commitments on staffing our buildings,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.
Sharkey accused CPS of watering down some of the district’s safety measures that were implemented last school year.
For example, instead of six feet of social distancing in school buildings, the district is going with three feet this fall.
“Last year, there was a very clear health metric, where the school said if the positivity rates go beyond a certain point, the schools will close or go back to remote. We don’t have that anymore,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey said CPS is blaming the Illinois State Board of Education, which has required all schools in the state to fully return to in-person learning this fall.
“The state has taken out the wiggle room, and says to count as school, it’s got to be five days a week in-person,” Sharkey said.
While the union would like the state to reconsider that mandate, Sharkey said, “what we don’t understand is how that’s going to work if we start seeing outbreaks in the vulnerable communities.”
Meantime, CTU is demanding vaccination clinics at every school, and teaching assistants in classrooms with a lot of students.
“Where we can divvy the classroom up, or maybe shorter class periods, where I’m able to teach all the kids that come in,” said Mike Smith, a teacher at Englewood STEM High School.
“If we go back in, and there’s a dangerous surge, we count on the mayor and district to do the right thing; and, if they don’t, we’ll take matters into our own hands,” Sharkey said.
Students return to school for in-person learning on Aug. 30.
This story originally appeared in CBSChicago