CHICAGO (CBS) — A request is denied to allow more Chicago Public Schools employees to work from home, but the Chicago Teachers Union says conditions during the pandemic are still cause for concern.
The dispute between CPS and CTU has been going on for a while now. School clerks and tech coordinators represented by the union don’t feel comfortable working in school buildings because of the pandemic, so CTU took action.
In late August, the union filed a grievance against CPS, arguing that clerks and tech coordinators should be allowed to work remotely instead of in buildings they feel are unsafe.
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An arbitrator in the case ruled those employees should be allowed to work remotely when feasible, rather than be required to report to work in person.
The union said the arbitrator’s ruling affects 1,000 people working inside CPS buildings since Aug. 31.
But CTU claimed CPS didn’t follow that ruling. That’s why they took the case to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, seeking an injunction forcing CPS to enforce the arbitrator’s ruling.
Representatives with both CTU and CPS spoke at Thursday’s hearing.
“I think we have a very real dispute, and I think that the board is perfectly justified in going ahead to trying to resolve it,” union attorney Stephen Yokich said.
“This is a significant case. If the board should determine that an injunction is warranted, it will effectively put control over school reopening into the union’s hands. Whether or not students come back to school this year will be decided by the CTU. They want to override the input of all other stakeholders; parents, community, staff, state and local government,” CPS attorney Sally Scott said.
Ultimately, the labor board denied CTU’s request for an injunction, but said it would be open to reviewing the case again when CPS announces a date for some students to resume in-person classes.
The district has said it plans to have students in Pre-K and some special education cluster programs return to school buildings sometime during the second quarter, but has not set a specific date yet.
Meantime, on Wednesday, CPS announced that recent air quality assessments of all its school building showed a vast majority of classrooms are “prepared for safe occupancy.”
CPS students have been learning entirely remotely since April due to the pandemic, and the district said it has since hired an independent state-certified environmental hygienist to conduct an air quality assessment of all 513 district-run schools in order to ensure they’re safe before bringing any students back to classrooms.
According to CPS, that assessment determined 94% of the 36,000 spaces assessed in its building were cleared as safe, including 99% of the nearly 20,000 classrooms checked.
The district also announced plans to spend $8.5 million to provide more than 20,000 HEPA air purifiers for every classroom.