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CTU files labor grievance after Chicago Public Schools announces mask mandate ending next week

ABC 7 Chicago logo ABC 7 Chicago 3/8/2022 WLS
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The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a labor grievance after Chicago Public Schools announced Monday it is dropping its mask mandate next week, citing a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases as vaccination rates and voluntary testing among their students and staff continue to rise.

The switch to a mask-optional policy would begin next Monday, CPS said.

However, the Chicago Teachers Union said this is a clear violation of their Jan. 12 safety agreement, and they filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district.

Now, the city is defending its decision, as CPS and CTU are once again at odds over masks.

RELATED | Bare-faced Chicago Public Schools students sent home as district moves toward mask-optional policy

CTU also said the CPS vaccination rates are not high enough warrant a mask optional policy.

"We know that less than 50% of our kids are vaccinated," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. "Take the mask off, then what happens in those school communities?"

The union's filing says the new policy breaks the agreement to keep masks on through the end of the school year.

"Our members have sacrificed for two straight years to get a safety agreement in place that respects the impact of COVID," Gates said.

Some parents are also upset over the decision, saying the decision unfairly targets Black and brown communities.

"It's racist," CPS parent Jesu Estrada said.

WATCH | Parents, teachers react to CPS' decision to go mask-optional

CPS said with high vaccination rates among staff and a positivity rate less than 1%, the risk is low enough to go mask optional. Legal action from downstate attorney Thomas Devore also pushed the district into make the decision before being forced to by a court.

"We were concerned with legal challenges, they could take the authority away from us," said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez.

RELATED | Downstate attorney sues Chicago Public Schools over masks after state mandate dropped

"The most discouraging part of this is that a freak show from downstate Illinois can come and file a lawsuit and get the full attention of our mayor and school district," said Gates.

Martinez said if the metrics get worse, he will reinstate mandatory masking and CPS will continue to get more students vaccinated.

"We are going to double down on our vaccination efforts," he said.

The union has been demanding more vaccination sites inside schools all along; in the meantime, they hope to be granted an emergency hearing over the unfair labor practice grievance this week.

The awaited change comes as nearly all other Illinois school districts switched to mask-optional policies this month.

Chicago's case count and positivity are the lowest they've been since July of last year and continue to fall.

A group of parents opposed to the mask-optional decision said they plan to rally outside of City Hall on Thursday morning.

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