Chicago school system set to end mask mandate as Union backs down

(Bloomberg) – Chicago Public Schools said it plans to move to optional masking for staff and students within a week, a move that could set up America’s third-largest system for another fight with its union teachers.

The system, which serves more than 300,000 students, is the latest nationally to make the change. It will still encourage K-12 students and staff to use masks, but is removing the requirement to wear them after Covid-19 infection rates drop and vaccination rates rise, said he said in a statement.

But the Chicago Teachers Union calls the new policy a “clear violation” of a January agreement and says it intends to fight the change. It’s too soon to make masks optional because vaccination rates vary from school to school and from neighborhood to neighborhood in the city, according to the union. The union says the change follows a lawsuit filed by parties outside the city.

Parents have new headaches as masks at school become optional

Chicago’s test positivity rate fell to 0.8% from more than 20% in January when the omicron variant caused an increase, according to the city’s dashboard. Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have also largely lifted masking mandates for public indoor spaces as hospitalizations and death rates have fallen. Removing mask requirements is also safe for children and teachers, according to Pedro Martinez, the system’s chief executive.

“The CPS was one of the first to demand universal masking in schools, and we would not move to a mask-optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicate it is safe. for our school communities,” Martinez said. “The District has remained responsive to change throughout the pandemic and we must continue to remain nimble and pivot if health data changes.”

The union intends to file an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the school system and plans to ask Chicago Public Schools to negotiate the new policy, according to a statement emailed Monday by the union. The decision to remove the mask mandate “is a clear violation” of a Jan. 12 memorandum of understanding, the statement said.

The rift is the latest in longstanding tensions between the union and Lightfoot and school system administrators. Classroom instruction was canceled for five days in January after the teachers’ union voted to go remote against the wishes of city officials, leaving 330,000 students out of class and marking the third such work stoppage in as many school years.

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