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Teachers union wants a delay in further Chicago schools reopening, and vaccines for high school students, as city sees rise in COVID-19 cases and variants

Hannah Leone, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CTU lawyer Thad Goodchild said the district confirmed this week that all pregnant and nursing members would have their telework requests approved for the fourth quarter, but that eligibility would likely narrow from the third quarter because so many educators have been getting vaccines.

The union framed its concerns with a statement issued Tuesday: “COVID cases are again going up in Chicago and across the nation. Yet Mayor Lightfoot has held off on vaccinating residents aged 16 and up, even as the state has opened up vaccinations for young people, the age group currently most impacting COVID spread and infection. At the same time, national health experts are raising concerns about the push to reopen schools, bars and other businesses as new variants drive a spike in cases.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that Chicago will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all U.S. adults by April 19, but called for more vaccines to be provided to the city. Vaccines are now available to everyone 16 and older in more than 80 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

Also Tuesday, Illinois officials reported 2,931 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths. Based on a seven-day rolling average, Chicago’s daily case count was 606 and the city’s positivity rate was 5.2%, up from 4.4% a week ago.

Sharkey also noted the more complicated scheduling challenges that come with reopening high schools.

“I think that one of the biggest issues that we’ve been bargaining about is the question of high school schedules,” Sharkey said. “It’s very difficult to put high school students in pods. The way to keep people safe is to ensure social distancing, and the best way to do that is to make sure there aren’t many students coming back to school on a given day.”

 

Sharkey said he anticipates most high schools will begin with a hybrid schedule, where students two days per week in school, similar to the model in use at most elementary schools.

At last month’s Chicago Board of Education meeting, Deputy Chief of High Schools Erick Pruitt presented three primary models for high schools to follow, depending on enrollment, the percentage of students opting in and the building’s capacity for social distancing. He said that each school’s model should keep its current schedule and allow students to stick with their teachers.

One model would have each student in person four days a week; the second would be two days a week, with two shifts of students; and the third would have each group of students in person only one day a week.

Sharkey said the district had informed the union that no schools would be following the one-day model, and questioned whether that was right.

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