Saturday, December 19, 2020


The latest email from Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey is copied below. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is attempting to open school buildings in January as the pandemic continues. The CTU lost a round in a 2-1 decision from the Illinois Labor Board. CTU is demanding safety, equity, and trust from the Chiago Public Schools in order for them to reopen.

As you read the email, notice the difference in tone between Sharkey and UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Don't abandon the idea of a union. It matters.


We are working hard to reopen our schools safely during this unprecedented holiday season. This has been an arduous and challenging year for many, including myself. My mother passed away in October, and earlier this month, her partner of 25 years lost his battle with COVID-19. Our union has mourned the passing of some of our most beloved members this year — Tom Lalagos, Olga Quiroga, Sherri Dabney-Parker, Luba Johnson — and many others in our school communities. We have lost students to gun violence.

Our guiding principle since March has been safety and survival, and through our work in this pandemic, we are also guided by our responsibility to advocate for educators, students and their families, and the communities we serve. We view all of these interests as intertwined.

This week, the concerns we have been expressing for months were confirmed: The majority of our families are prioritizing safety, and are reluctant to return their children to school buildings right now.

This was the case in August, and again prior to the start of the second quarter in October. Families aren't relying on Chicago Public Schools to provide equity, because they know the district has failed them on that front for years. Families are saying that safety is equity.

Now the question becomes, are we keeping the educators and students inside of our buildings as safe as possible, and are we offering the best education we can for the majority?

Yesterday's news

CPS continues to refuse to bargain on safety issues with us, just as it continues to refuse to make remote learning better, as students, families and educators have asked for months. Yesterday, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB), on a split 2-1 vote, denied our request to seek a preliminary injunction against CPS’ unilaterally developed plan to resume in-person learning on Jan. 4. Acting IELRB chair Lynne Sered agreed with us, saying "Health and safety is a mandatory subject of bargaining ... we are literally dealing with life and death, which amounts to irreparable harm."

IELRB members Gilbert O'Brien and Lara Shayne voted to send the issue to trial to decide whether the decision to resume in-person learning is a question of “places of instruction” — a permissive subject of bargaining under section 4.5 — or a matter of health and safety, which is a mandatory subject of bargaining under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act.

We're pushing for an expedited hearing next week. We're also convening our executive board on Monday, and planning an all-member tele-town hall next Tuesday to talk about recent developments and land next steps.

Three principles

We are passionate about the importance of in-school instruction. We should have in-person school as soon as practicable, and once we’ve addressed three things: safety, with a clear, reasonable public health metric; trust, including a way to make sure that Central Office policies are implemented on the school building level; and equity, which will address our students' health, and social and emotional needs.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot's health commissioner, Dr. Alison Arwady, has said that school is safe to open right now. She said the same this summer — literally the day before CPS announced that schools wasn’t safe and we weren’t reopening.

While I respect the work of medical experts, I need to point out that CPS is refusing to name a daily case rate which it deems as safe, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit and numerous suburban and collar county school districts, have all established positivity rates which go along with in-school mitigation strategies.

CPS has not answered the question: "How many cases a day is safe?" If 20 percent of the people who go for a test come back positive, there are too many people going into school with the virus.

How do we get back to in-person school? Give educators and the public a reasonable number, hit that number and we can go back. Otherwise, wait. There is a vaccine and warmer weather coming.

Building safety

I must point out again out that CPS is, frankly, just lying about a number of things — including its claim that ventilation systems in our schools can help reduce the spread of the virus. That's just not true, because CPS has never tested its ventilation systems for COVID-19 mitigation.

In fact, the district told contract workers not to test ventilation systems for COVID-19 mitigation. So we simply do not know, and that's not good enough.

CPS has also misled the public about the portable HEPA filters it has purchased, which do not have the capacity to effectively filter a space larger than 500 square feet. The district warehoused those filters for months, even as some of our school clerks became infected with COVID-19 in buildings they were forced to return to on August 26.

We learned this week that one school has closed all of its mobile classrooms because of ventilation issues, and we still have grave concerns about ventilation risks.

Finally, the mayor and CPS keep claiming that schools are not sources of COVID-19 spread. That, too, is simply false. In Illinois, schools are the largest identified source of COVID-19 infection in contact tracing for potential exposure sites. And while we've argued for months that the data on this issue is thin and incomplete, a growing body of research is showing that schools and children, who are overwhelmingly asymptomatic, are in fact potent sources of spread, especially when building conditions are poor and there is wide background community infection.

Those are our school communities. That is CPS.

Real equity

COVID-19 does not affect all communities equally.

People who work in the service sector, live in crowded, multi-generational housing and have poorer access to health care to begin with, are getting hit the hardest. This is a lot of our CPS families.

Many people are dying. Many more are contracting COVID-19. We have positivity rates of 20 percent and higher in many Chicago communities.

What we’re seeing is that a large majority of families are not yet ready to send their children back to school for in-person instruction, especially families in neighborhoods where COVID-19 infection and deaths are the highest.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson says that a majority of the students returning to buildings are Black and Latinx. This is typical of how CPS is disingenuous in its messaging, and claims equity to mislead the public about a plan that is actually worse for Black and Latinx students — a strong majority of whose parents are rejecting a return to buildings and choosing not to send their children back to buildings.

A majority of the children returning are Black and Latinx because those two groups make up 90 percent of CPS students. And CPS is planning a grave disservice to their families because its current plan will weaken remote teaching.

Make remote learning better

Because the majority of students will be staying home, forcing all teachers to return to school buildings will actually harm the education of more children than it will help, because inevitably, their attention will be occupied by the small number of students in classrooms instead of the larger number online.

For the mayor and CPS to claim equity as their motivation, and shortchange the Black and Latinx families who have chosen to remain remote, doesn't add up. It’s not even clear to me that we can meet the state mandate for synchronous learning for these families who have chosen to stick with remote learning.

The mayor and CEO Jackson say parents have a choice, but it's really a false choice. Under their plan, parents who choose remote do not have the option of having a teacher with undivided attention. And 40,000 teachers and support staff do not have a choice. The mayor's CEO is telling educators to return or be fired.

But as a union of tens of thousands of teachers, PSRPs, social workers, clinicians, nurses and librarians, we do have a choice. We object to this plan, which has been shaped by CPS alone without bargaining with our union. The 43 meetings CPS claims we've had mean very little when we're being stonewalled. Holding meetings, then ignoring and refusing reasonable requests, isn't engagement.

Right now, we are campaigning, meeting with elected officials and pursuing our objections in court. And we hope that public pressure works, because safety must be paramount.

If not, our union will have internal discussions about what to do next, and what actions we will take going forward to protect our school communities. We hope it does not come to that, because we’d like to be able to mutually work with CPS and say we all think it’s safe to come to school.

But if the mayor and CPS ignore our demands, which are reasonable, we will take whatever steps necessary to ensure that we open buildings only when the safety, equity and trust we need is finally in place.

Stay vigilant, and have a safe and healthy holiday season.

In solidarity,

Jesse Sharkey

CTU President


Anonymous said...

Difference in tone, but you want us to pay the corrupt uft. No thanks.

James Eterno said...

We need a union.

Anonymous said...

48 students and 86 doe employees tested positive on Friday alone. Yes, the schools are really safe.

Anonymous said...

Cool, keep getting screwed. Good luck. Let me know when you've accomplished something. I could've said that 20 years ago too, and nothing has been accomplished.

Anonymous said...

De Blasio is a murderer.

Anonymous said...

We don't have a union.
We won't have one until we leave the UFT.

Anonymous said...

Many more DOE employees will die during the next three months.
This is an unfolding tragedy.

Do not support the DOE reign of murder by showing up to work this week.

Anonymous said...

Only a communist or social democrat will encourage us to continue to pay dues.
Mayor De Blasio is avowed Communist and he admits that he wants to re-distribute wealth.

Mayor D Blasio seeks the creative destruction of New York City.

Anonymous said...

Mayor Bill de Blasio asserted Friday that a redistribution of wealth was vital in helping end the structural racism plaguing New York City schools.

Anonymous said...

Nah, they are sheep. Will never learn. They've proven that over decades. Let it be. I opted out in 2018. Proven right daily. I'll be safe at home. Hope they will wake up before it is too late.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bunch of satisfied employees and union members. Good, right James? This is what you want to read everyday?

Anonymous said...

This is a perfect microcosm of the resentment and destructiveness that drives socialism. They hate that smart kids in NYC can attend special schools b/c this acknowledges there are less-smart kids. So they're banning the gifted programs as a pure F-you to successful families.

Anonymous said...

Testing positive in a school is one thing. The disease spreading in the school is another. No evidence of covid spreading throughout school at such a high rate to warrant closing. In fact well below average. Schools are safe. Most spread happens at home.

Anonymous said...

What a moronic comment. Obviously the people who are originally spreading it at home are getting from a PUBLIC place, whether it be a bar, restaurant, public transport, work, and yes school.

Anonymous said...

Chicago teachers are not afraid to strike while Mulgrew talks shit and gets nothing done.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are morons. See every contract they vote for. See dues payers. See passing grades.

Anonymous said...

The moron who said its not spreading in schools. Well it spreads from parents who cant be safe. We know some of our schools are safe.

Anonymous said...

Just found out friend ... a substitute teacher is dying of covid . Age: 49. I am overwhelmed.

Marc said...

Free ride, blame whitey

Dalton kids were made to watch a PBS video called Being 12, in which 'white kids are shamed for the sin of their skin color and told they are complicit in perpetuating racism.

Abolishing high-level academic courses by 2023 if the performance of black students is not on par with non-blacks.

Hiring 12 full-time diversity officers, and multiple psychologists to support students “coping with race-based traumatic stress."

Anonymous said...

I mean, Mulgrew said it is fine. I would keep paying dues and go into the building tomorrow.

Today's update on the numbers:

Total COVID hospitalizations are at 6,185.

Of the 197,251 tests reported yesterday, 9,957 were positive (5.05% of total).

Sadly, there were 123 fatalities.

Anonymous said...


I'm know with the moronic comment. Yes, they are getting it from bars, restaurants, etc...but the numbers do not support widespread at school. Newsday just reported that while thousands of Nassau students and staff have tested positive less than 10 have been traced back to a K-12 school. These schools have higher attendance rates, students attending every day, and larger class sizes. NYC has less students, less adults in the building, cohorts and most likely less positive cases traced back to public schools.

This virus will never fully disappear but to shut down something that has proven to be extremely safe has no logic. Kids are wearing masks, keeping distant, and following guidelines. testing is conducted. I've been tested twice with results coming back in 2 days. We had one student test positive...forced a quarantine of an entire class and 8 adults. Not one other tested positive.

You see, my moronic comment is backed by facts and statistics not assumptions and ignorance.

James Eterno said...

Schools are not immune 4:43. Why should we take chances with schools? We covered this last week.

Anonymous said...

4:43: You wouldn't saying this if someone in your family died from it.

Anonymous said...

Let’s pay dues to the CTU.

Anonymous said...

This logic is infuriating. I am not the person you are responding to but I agree with bits and pieces of what several people are saying on both sides of this. I have lost a parent and another family member to covid and the underlying conditions they had. It's upsetting to see that "if you knew someone" line used as an argument. Just because you have lost someone doesn't mean you should toss out logic and give into hysteria. Losing my father was incredibly difficult and he suffered for two months back in April and May. My cousin passed more quickly but it was as hard on the family. Also, not everyone who experiences an event thinks or acts the same. Everyone should be rationally cautious but be careful not to make sweeping assumptions.

Anonymous said...

How is it Eva Moskowitz can see it’s clearly dangerous to open schools and Cuomo, deBlasio, Carranza and Mulgrew can’t? Charter school teachers, with no union representation, can all remotely work from home. DOE teachers, that are represented by the UFT, are expected to march into schools like good little soldiers. Who are you risking your life for? DeBlasio, Carranza or Mulgrew? Like Mulgrew said, ‘make sure you have your will made out.’ This virus is starting to explode and morph.

Anonymous said...

If the virus is really mutating at the speed speculated in the NYT, the stimulus is at least a trillion short...And we should not be in any building.

Just an endangered CL said...

I've said in other threads that the data is strongly biased due to how it is collected.

a) staff/students who have symptoms are kept home
b) testing in schools does not include (a); therefore includes healthy or asymptomatic individuals
c) 20% random testing is not random. Please contradict this for your school. At my school they asked for volunteers to report to the auditorium for the "random" testing. This means healthy individuals went. Definitely not those who had the slightest symptoms but chose to go in that day.

This is the data acquisition for school positivity - clearly biased as it excludes those with symptoms.

What about those in (a) who tested positive? Their tests were done outside the school and counted with the city statistics, not the school statistics - further biasing of the data.

How many of us have heard from our students that they or someone in their family tested positive - yet this information is NOT being passed to your administration/DOE?

Tracing? I'd love to hear more reports regarding how this happening in the schools. In my school a person who shared a small office was not considered to be "in close contact" since their desk was over 6 feet away from the other. So I'm not confident that this is being done correctly either.

Anonymous said...

12 days ago, 5 schools were closed. Now it is 280. Seems safe

Anonymous said...

AOC got vaccine at 31 years old...Also, is that why AOC put her goddaughter into a charter school?
Quote Tweet

TJL said...

Re: Eva: This is why we need to be VERY wary of normalizing "remote learning". This is no accident and not about "safety". She can hire someone anywhere in the country, or even the world, for pennies on the dollar.

On a broader scale this is why it's so important to get everything open ASAP. "Wall Street", "Madison Avenue" and other industries can hire in South Dakota, Tennessee and Florida at a massive discount and pay less taxes (zero income taxes in particular) and where the bosses can live in freedom.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to stick with the name 4:43 moving forward

I have lost a few family members. I also live with 2 people who are considered at risk (elderly and child with lung issues). I minimize all contact every where else. I wear my mask. I don't eat out. I don't take public transportation. I've seen my mother 3 times in 9 months. My brothers 1 time. We live close. My father who still travels must talk to us from the street. Only a plumber has been in my house in 9 months. I keep my distance and take the protocols seriously. I am not recklessly challenging the virus or making a political statement. (full disclosure I am a conservative but completely disagree with the anti-mask stance and I am not lining up for the vaccine)

At school, I wear every protective piece of equipment eligible to me. I wash my hands constantly. I follow all school protocols and if someone comes near me not following them I ask them to do so. I take every precaution seriously and I believe in them. No one is reckless in my school. The kids are great. They wear their masks (3K-5). They stay 6 feet apart. I eat alone or far away from anyone. I don't touch door handles. Going to the bathroom is like preparing for surgery.

Testing is random at my school. I am told when to test. They do not ask me or anyone else if they want to. I would volunteer if they did, not to skew the numbers but so I know, but they don't ask. That goes for everyone at my school.

The safety protocols work. But nothing is ever 100%. The virus is serious. My precautions show I take it seriously to stay safe. There are many places where the spread is worse but schools are not one of the high impact areas. People may be bringing it in but they are not spreading it at a high rate. I feel safe at my school. My experience is obviously different from others. I respect your perspectives.

Each school and experience is different, I'd admit. I apologize for generalizing my own experience to everyone else. To be honest I am more concerned with the spread after Thanksgiving and the 10 days off for Christmas within families.

I respect others opinions but I feel safe because I remain vigilant in staying safe.

James Eterno said...

You have reduced the odds but the odds would be further reduced if you taught from home 9:13. CDC and everyone with a brain says that is the safest way to have school.

Anonymous said...

It’s beyond disgraceful that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are exploiting the pandemic to forward their war on standards in the public schools.

On Friday, they announced they’re scrapping academic-based screening for middle schools this year, substituting an admissions lottery. Carranza claims this is “simpler and fairer,” because remote learning was a particular challenge to lower-income families.

In fact, it’s more about axing the standards at the 196 screened middle schools, which will now have to handle students who aren’t prepared for their curricula. Do the schools dumb everything down? Or add special classes for kids who aren’t ready — or simply flunk children misassigned thanks to this nonsense?

It’s not actually boosting opportunity for the underprivileged: It’s a step toward removing the opportunity for a challenging middle-school education for children who are prepared for it.

Fine: The pandemic made it harder to use the normal screening procedures, but it was still possible to salvage some of them. The mayor and chancellor are instead seizing on the crisis to indulge their dubious ideology.

The real way to add opportunity for less-privileged kids is to improve the schools that now fail to teach them enough to make it into a screened school — or to open new selective middle schools designed to help them catch up.

The de Blasio-Carranza approach, as Matt Welch noted in Saturday’s Post, will simply drive middle-class kids out of the public system. Indeed, it gives these families one more reason to move out of the city altogether.

This isn’t boosting equity: It’s an attack on excellence.

TJL said...

Just bring back the SP program in JHS, IGC in the PS, then you don't need JHS applications or screening. Get the grades, exam scores and/or recommendations from the feeder schools.

Anonymous said...

Yes 1058 an attack on excellence. Middle class should abandon the city. Let the communist mayor continue to ruin nyc . Get out if you want your kids to go to a nice school with real standards. If you want your kids in grade fraud schools where they can be assaulted daily, stick with nyc. My only sympathy is for the decent families who can’t afford to leave. Those who can afford it should leave and those who aren’t decent should rot along with the communist run nyc.

Anonymous said...

De Blasio is using his Marxist education in dialectical materialism and creative destruction to rationalize the "redistribution of wealth".

Anonymous said...

Well, if one thing is certain, most people on this comment page do not know the meaning of Marxism, or socialism, or communism. And none of the politicians being name checked adhere to any form of those systems or ideologies (no, not even AOC or the other DemSoc's).