As pandemic-related mandates ended in Illinois, the safety agreement between Chicago’s government and the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) was cast aside even though promises were made to keep the contract in place through the end of the 2021-22 school year. Instead, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education made wearing masks optional in clear violation of the agreed-upon bargain created to end the teachers’ strike in January.
The union, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, filed unfair labor practice (ULP) charges against the board of education on March 7, 2022. Despite agreeing to open negotiations with the CTU if mandatory masking, the complaint reports that Martinez’s announcement was premature since no bargaining or discussion of ending the mandate was not held with union representatives.
Not only did CPS unilaterally implement the end to mandatory masking, but this is only one of several actions taken that are contrary to its agreement with the union.
In the six-page complaint, the union asserts that health and safety experts agree several components are essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in public settings. These measures are “the use of masks, vaccinations, proper air ventilation, testing of students and CPS employees, proper quarantine and isolation policies, and the use of remote learning,” according to the CTU Local 1 CPS Masking Policy ULP pdf.
The union blames the district’s refusal to require students to be vaccinated as a reason for the masking mandate to remain in place and cited low vaccination rates in many of the city’s schools:
As of the date of this filing, less than half of CPS students are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 at nearly 75% of all CPS schools. At nearly 50 CPS schools, primarily on the South and West sides of Chicago, 10% or less of students are fully vaccinated. The vaccination rates for CPS students are lower than those for children in Chicago as a whole.
There is substantial evidence that the COVID-19 virus spreads easily in school settings, especially if masks are not worn, states the ULP. Their assertion is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even though there have not been studies done about the real-world effectiveness of masks preventing virus infection, using well-fitting face coverings while inside public settings lower the odds when compared to not using a mask.
Timeline of events leading up to the union filing ULP charges against the Chicago School District:
- CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot assured teachers on February 22 that they would adhere to the COVID-19 Related Safety Protocols signed into place by a representative of the Chicago Board of Education on January 13 and the Chicago Teachers Union on January 18.
- Discussion of CPS moving to a mask-optional policy “soon,” during a school board meeting on February 23 was mixed. Martinez indicated he was open to the idea of lifting “the mandate at some point but cautioned against impulsive decisions,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The state’s indoor mask mandate ended on February 28, except for CPS, public transit, and congregant living environments, including assisted living facilities, nursing homes, prisons, etc.
- CPS announced on March 7 that masks would be optional beginning the following Monday, March 14.
- The union filed its complaint about violating the collective bargaining agreement that established the COVID-related protocols, which ended the teachers’ strike in January.
While the negotiation between the Chicago School Board and the teachers union was held during the peak of the COVID-19 variant Omicron infection rate, there is no scientific reason to assume the pandemic — now in its third year — is going to end anytime soon.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
ABC 7 News: After Chicago mask mandate lifts, CPS follows suit; CTU pushing back; by Jessica D’Onofrio
Chicago Sun-Times: CPS to drop mask mandate ‘in the near future,’ CEO says; by Nader Issa
ABC 7 Eyewitness News: CTU files labor grievance after Chicago Public Schools announces mask mandate ending next week; by Diane Pathieu and Sarah Schulte
CTU: Tom Devore, Mayor Lightfoot and CPS have violated the Safety Agreement
CTU: ULP charge now moves to trial before an administrative law judge
CDC: Effectiveness of Face Mask or Respirator Use in Indoor Public Settings for Prevention of SARS-CoV-2 Infection
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