By SOPHIA TAREEN – Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) – Chicago principals have canceled classes for a fourth day in the nation’s third largest district as negotiations with the teachers’ union over distance learning and safety protocols have failed. not come to an agreement this weekend.

The announcement came after directors of some schools had already informed families that their schools would be closed for instruction on Monday.

“Although we negotiated hard throughout the day, there has not been enough progress for us to predict a return to class tomorrow,” district officials said in an email to families on Sunday. evening. “We will continue to negotiate through the night and provide an update if we have made substantial progress.”

The contentious issues included tests and measures to close schools. The Chicago Teachers Union would like to have the opportunity to return to district-wide distance education, and most members refused to teach in person until there is an agreement, or the last peak of COVID-19 subsides. But Chicago leaders reject district-wide distance learning, saying it’s damaging and schools are safe. Instead, Chicago chose to cancel classes as a whole two days later. students returned from winter vacation.

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Chicago’s public schools are facing the same pandemic problems as other districts of the country, with more return to distance learning as infections skyrocket and staff are sidelined. But the situation in the union-friendly city of Chicago escalated amid a labor dispute well known to mostly low-income black and Latino families who experienced disruption over a period of time. similar. security protocol fights last year, a 2019 to hit and one one-day work stoppage in 2016.

“What the teachers’ union did was an illegal walkout. They gave up their posts and they abandoned the children and their families, ”Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on NBC’s“ Meet The Press ”on Sunday. “We are working diligently every day at the bargaining table to narrow down the differences and get a deal done. “

His statements weren’t so contemptuous like a day earlier when shortly after the union made its latest offer public, she said, “CTU leaders, you are not listening” and vowed not to “give in.” The offer she rejected included distance learning from Wednesday. Both parties have filed complaints to a state labor commission.

Union leaders have accused Lightfoot of intimidation, saying they agree face-to-face education is better, but the pandemic is forcing tough decisions to be made. Attendance was down before cancellations due to students and teachers isolated from possible exposure to the virus and families choosing to keep children at home voluntarily.

“Educators are not the enemy Mayor Lightfoot wants them to be,” the union said in a statement on Sunday, adding that the desire to be in the classroom “must be balanced by ensuring that these classrooms are safe, healthy and well-equipped, with the appropriate mitigation needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. ”

The district said on Saturday night it would allow more incentives for substitute teachers, provide KN95 masks to all teachers and students, and Illinois would provide about 350,000 antigen tests. But the two sides have remained distant on key issues, including COVID-19 measures that will lead to individual school closings and compensation. The district said it would not pay teachers who do not show up to schools, even if they try to connect to distance education systems. The union does not want any of its roughly 25,000 members to be punished or to lose their pay.

District leaders said some schools, where enough staff showed up, could offer education on Monday even without a deal; all buildings remained open for the collection of meals. However, only a handful of principals said they had staff to open and many have preemptively canceled Monday classes, anticipating shortages.

School leaders have touted a $ 100 million safety plan, which includes air purifiers in every classroom. In addition, around 91% of the staff are vaccinated and masks are mandatory indoors.

Since the start of the school year, some individual classes have temporarily switched to distance learning in the event of infection. But rejecting a large-scale return to distance learning, city health officials argue most students headed into quarantine due to possible classroom exposure do not get COVID-19 . The district is piloting a “test-to-stay” program to reduce isolation times.

The union argues that the measures are insufficient, especially given the push fueled by the omicron that has shaken the return to work and classroom. He also criticized the district for not enrolling enough students in an assessment program and a unreliable database on COVID-19 infections.

Seven families in the district, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures last week, while about 5,000 others signed a petition calling for a return to trial in anybody.

Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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