All through the pandemic, CTU rank and file members have often been adamant about what they say is the need for remote learning; and absent that, rigorous safety measures in schools that include masks. --Supplied photo

All through the pandemic, CTU rank and file members have often been adamant about what they say is the need for remote learning; and absent that, rigorous safety measures in schools that include masks. --Supplied photo

Tug of war over masks

CTU fights in court to stay covered

By Tim Hadac

Masks became optional last week at public schools across the city, but the Chicago Teachers Union still vowed a fight to keep everyone covered.

In the wake of a decision against their position by a labor board, the CTU issued this statement:

“By way of a 3-2 vote [March 16], the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board — chaired by former Chicago Public Schools lawyer Lara Shayne — denied a request for a preliminary injunction concerning Mayor Lightfoot’s unfair labor practice in disregarding January’s COVID-19 Related Safety Protocols Memorandum of Agreement and unilaterally implementing a mask-optional policy in Chicago Public Schools without bargaining with the Union.

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All through the pandemic, CTU rank and file members have often been adamant about what they say is the need for remote learning; and absent that, rigorous safety measures in schools that include masks. –Supplied photo

“The case now moves to trial before an administrative law judge, along with seven other COVID-related unfair labor practice charges pending against CPS.

“The Chicago Teachers Union will continue to stand up for maximum safety in Chicago’s public schools and communities. Despite disregard for the collective bargaining process from Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools, our rank-and-file members remain committed to serving students and families safely, and fighting for essential pandemic safety mitigations around vaccinations, contact tracing and COVID-19 testing.”

CTU represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299; and by extension, more than 350,000 students and families.

CPS parents, grandparents react

CPS families contacted by the Clear-Ridge Reporter & NewsHound showed a mix of reactions.

“I am pro-mask and so is my CPS high school student, who continues to wear a mask despite not having to,” Kloudia Guerrero said.

“You will never please everyone,” added Paul Pope. “If you feel that strongly about it, have your children wear a mask in school. If you work there, wear your mask to work. Other school districts in other states have been doing this the entire school year. But this is Chicago, where we fight and argue about everything. Do not worry. Masks will be back next school year with the next variant of the virus. Also, get the vaccine for your children and yourselves if your doctor approves.”

Cathy Ann Smith asked, “Did [the mayor] bargain to put the mandate into place? Nope. It was a public health issue, so it’s silly to think she would have to bargain to remove the un-bargained order. Now that the emergency is over, it’s optional. If you feel unsafe, wear your N95 all day.”

“If people would just take some vitamins everyday and eat better a little more often, there might not have been a crisis,” added Judy Ollry. “Everything in moderation. Better health always starts in your gut.”

A woman who requested that her name be withheld noted, “The masks are optional since Monday. And even though they are optional, most of the students wear them. Only three or four do not.”

Tyres Jackson said this about CTU: “What a bunch of lazy mutts. If I had a business and put out the product Chicago teachers do, I would be out of business. They look for any angle to do less for more money.”

Background

While CPS will continue to encourage the use of masks, the shift “will give families and employees a choice about whether or not to wear a mask at school, outside on school property, and on school buses,” officials said in a statement last week.

The number of newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases in schools and throughout the city has declined sharply over the past several weeks, while at the same time, vaccination rates among CPS students and staff are continuing to rise, and voluntary testing has dramatically increased in schools.

Officials added:

  • CPS COVID-19 vaccination rates are now near the national average for 12-17 year-old students (64% of CPS students age 12-17 have had at least a first dose, compared to 68% nationally).
  • Rates are well above the national average for 5-11 year-old students (47% of CPS students age 5-11 have had at least a first dose, compared to 33% nationally).
  • Overall, 56% of age-eligible CPS students have received at least one dose, and nearly half (49%) are fully vaccinated.
  • More than 91% of all CPS staff members are fully vaccinated.

Chicago is at low risk for COVID-19 by every metric, including the historic and current metrics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The city’s case counts and positivity are the lowest they have been since July 2021 and continue to fall. Chicago is now averaging just 191 cases of COVID-19 per day, among an average of more than 27,000 daily tests performed, giving a positivity rate of just 0.8%. CPS’ screening test positivity rate is dramatically lower than the city’s, at 0.14 percent.

The move to mask optional comes two years after the pandemic forced CPS and schools across the state to shut down.

Most school districts across the country have already transitioned to a mask-optional model. The City of Chicago removed the mask requirements for certain public spaces on Feb. 28 to align with the State of Illinois, and the CDC recently relaxed mask guidance for communities where hospitals aren’t under high strain.

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