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Chicago Public Schools stops paying some teachers who were required, but refused, to return to work


The Chicago Teachers Union has agressively opposed plans to return to in-person learning

Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

More than 100 Chicago teachers face discipline after they refused to show up for the first day of in-person learning this school year.

What is the background?

The Chicago Teachers Union has aggressively campaigned against reopening plans, arguing the coronavirus pandemic creates unsafe working and learning environments. That means the nearly 400,000 students who receive instruction in the Chicago Public Schools system have been relegated to online learning since the pandemic began 10 months ago.

But CPS finally rolled out a plan last month to resume, albeit slowly, in-person learning.

Phase One of the plan began Monday, when students enrolled in pre-K and "moderate and intensive cluster programs" — the district's program for special needs students — were scheduled to return to in-person learning. Parents nationwide have voiced frustrations with remote learning. In fact, remote learning has proved, in many cases, to be a massive failure, as student failure rates were at record highs nationwide for the fall semester.

As the Associated Press noted, "English language learners and disabled and disadvantaged students suffering the most." Indeed, remote learning has only pushed already disadvantaged students further into the margins.

What's happening in Chicago?

CPS reported that one-quarter of teachers and staff who were required to return to school this week refused, amounting to 915 teachers and staff. Of those, 678 teachers and staff "didn't have an excuse," according to WBEZ-FM.

Of those employees, 145 have been declared to be "absent without leave," which means they have been locked out of their virtual classrooms, barred from accessing their work email, and are having their pay withheld, the Chicago Tribute reported.

The teachers refused to show despite the city spending $100 million to make city schools COVID-19 safe.

CEO Janice Jackson had warned last week that teachers who refused to show up would face discipline, WLS-TV reported.

"Individuals who are refusing to report to work and who will be considered absent without leave will face progressive discipline per CPS policy," Jackson said.

How did the Chicago Teachers Union respond?

According to WBEZ, the union was "incensed" that teachers who were required to teach from their classrooms were punished for refusing to carry out their in-classroom job duties.

The union reportedly said locking teachers out of their virtual classroom and withholding pay is "cruel and illegal."

Pushback from the union, though, was no surprise. CTU president Jesse Sharkey said just last week that the start of in-person learning needed to be further delayed, and that district officials should instead plan for a "robust summer program."

"Delay the start of school, and let the vaccination proceed, and then figure out a way to extend school with a robust summer program," he said, WLS reported.

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