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Multiple Teachers’ Unions Around Illinois Consider Strikes If They Are Asked To Return To School And It’s Not Safe

WINNETKA, Ill. (CBS) — As we make our ways closer to the first day of school, some teachers’ groups are making their way closer to a possible strike – with concerns over safety creating a line in the sand.

An unnamed source confirmed to CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov that the Chicago Teachers Union plans to convene its House of Delegates early next week to discuss a rank-and-file-led process to take a strike vote to demand remote learning for Chicago Public Schools.

As CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported Tuesday, the bottom line is that teachers do not want to go back to the classroom – and the situation could get heated before school even begins. And the CTU is not alone.

Teachers’ unions have formed medical panels of pediatricians to determine whether districts are creating safe environments for the teachers being asked to go into the classroom this fall – even on a limited basis.

If the answer is no, it is not safe, then the word “strike” might become of a regular part of our vocabulary again.

New Trier Township High School in Winnetka is trying to “ramp up from no students in school to a small set of students in school”

That ramp-up was already under way inside and outside New Trier in the weeks before school was set to start.

School leaders wrote their reopening plans “allow us to provide in-person instruction to students for a portion of each week,” and that “throughout the year, operational plans may change.”

A school year complete with color-coded schedules and pivot plans depending on COVID-19 spikes and dips has teachers concerned about going into the classroom at all. And some teachers’ groups around Illinois are considering a strike to protect members.

The Illinois Education Association said: “No avenue or action is off the table – the courts, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, nothing, including health and safety strikes. The entire weight of the IEA and the IFT will be used in whatever way is necessary to protect the students and the staff who educate them.”

“What we will strike over is the health and safety conditions of our students and our schools and the educational professionals that work with them,” said Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin.

The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike for more than two weeks last year over raises, smaller class sizes, and increased staffing.

In a conference call last month, the CTU’s attorney hinted that one specific part of the union contract provides the strongest cover during a pandemic. It calls for employees to “work under safe and healthful conditions.”

How that is defined may ultimately be up to a judge.

With regard to the CTU’s possible strike plans, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement: “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students and staff, and Chicago Public Schools won’t open its doors on September 8 if public health officials don’t deem it safe to do so. We continue to gather community feedback and closely monitor the public health data before making any final determinations for what learning will look like this fall.”

We tried talking Tuesday with leaders of the CTU, New Trier, Lake Forest, and the Illinois Education Association, but none got back to us.

That is often a sign that they really want progress and do not want to litigate the issue in the news media – with the clock ticking and nervousness surrounding job security and physical wellbeing.

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