Members of the Chicago Teachers Union refused to return to classrooms Monday, even though Chicago Public Schools officially reopened to some in-classroom learning. Now, the city says teachers who called in sick without an excuse will be considered “absent without leave” for each day they refuse to turn up and may not be paid for their time.

CTU has resisted a return to classrooms nearly since in-person learning was suspended back in March of 2020, at the start of the nationwide coronavirus pandemic. As Chicago officials neared a decision on returning to in-classroom learning, at least part-time, and for a select number of students — preschool-aged students and students who require one-on-one instruction, including “severe” special needs students — CTU even went so far as to suggest forcing teachers back into classrooms was “racist” and sexist.”

Late last week, CTU issued a new series of demands, telling Chicago Public Schools that “no teacher should be required to teach in person until all school employees have had the opportunity to get vaccinated, or until the city’s positivity rate falls to 3 percent and its rate of new cases falls below 400 per day,” according to the New York Times, and informed CPS that teachers would not show up to work on Monday if their demands were not met.

Chicago Public Schools, backed by Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, issued their own warning: teachers who did not show up for work Monday would be “deemed absent without leave and will not be eligible for pay.”

On Monday, 18% of Chicago Public Schools employees did not show up for work, and Tuesday morning, WBEZ Chicago reports, CPS said they plan to make good on their threat — and, in addition, beginning Tuesday, those same teachers will be locked out of their virtual classrooms. CPS’s implication is clear: either they teach in person or they don’t teach at all.

“As Chicago Public Schools leaders welcomed the first small group of students into classrooms Monday, they also announced that about 18% of teachers and staff who were required to return failed to do so and that, starting Tuesday, some of them will lose pay and be cut off from their virtual classrooms,” WBEZ reported.

“On Tuesday, 145 staff are far enough in the discipline process to be considered “absent without leave” and will face these harsh consequences,” the outlet continued. “Unless the school district’s position changes, that is likely just the beginning. A quarter of staff required to return didn’t, according to the school district. Of those 915 teachers and staff, 678 didn’t have an excuse for not swiping in, according to CPS. The rest failed the health screener and were excused.”

CTU called CPS’s decision to follow through on its threat “cruel and illegal,” but seemed to indicate, through its leadership, that it may now be open to reaching a deal over reopening.

The school district is, of course, facing its own issues. Fewer students than expected returned to classrooms Monday, and it has reportedly been difficult for the district to find substitute teachers for classrooms whose regular instructors are locked out. CPS also likely needs to handle its issues with the union before February 1st, when elementary school students are due to return to classrooms, per the mayor’s directive.

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