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Chicago mayor, teachers still at odds over COVID protocols

CHICAGO (AP) – Negotiations resumed on Saturday to resolve a standoff between Chicago school officials and the city’s teachers union over COVID-19 precautions that cancelled three days of classes, but the public war-of-words between union leaders and Chicago’s mayor showed little sign of easing.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot flatly rejected the union’s latest proposal that its leaders described as a solution. The union softened its prior demand for broad mandatory testing but maintained that teachers and kids shouldn’t return to classrooms until mid-January.

“Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership, you’re not listening,” Lightfoot said. “The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”

The blunt response came less than an hour after leaders of the CTU unveiled what they deemed a compromise seeking to resume remote instruction on Wednesday and in-person instruction on January 18. The union also backed a random screening programme that students could opt out of, rather than its initial preference for mandatory testing.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Lightfoot’s repeated opposition to using remote learning district wide and to any testing programme that requires students to opt out rather than volunteering “doesn’t compute”.

Teachers agree that in-person instruction is better for their students, but everyone is forced to make difficult decisions during a pandemic, Sharkey said.

“As educators, we’re trying to use all the tools we have to make our community safe and to educate children,” he said, blasting anyone who suggests union members are showing a lack of concern for kids. “It’s hard to believe that the mayor really believes that. You know the way teachers see that? We see it as bullying.” The union, which voted this week to revert to online instruction, told teachers not to show up to schools starting on Wednesday while talks took place.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest. PHOTO: AP
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