Did CTU just roll Lightfoot again?

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It’s not that the decision to dump an earlier hybrid plan calling for a mix of remote and in-school classes is wrong. Despite the chaos this will cause for many families in which both parents work, the move is defensible. There is no easy, simple or correct answer for how to deal with public education in the era of COVID-19.

What’s problematic is that the mayor once again has left the impression that she can be rolled by the group that has become her archenemy, the Chicago Teachers Union, which frequently attacks her in mean-spirited, personal terms and whose vice president, Stacy Davis Gates, is widely believed to be preparing to run for mayor herself in a couple of years.

CTU strongly opposed the hybrid plan, successfully snaring blanket media coverage with a car caravan to City Hall earlier this week. And its leaders are claiming the credit for instigating the mayoral flip-flop, throwing the proverbial spiking party in the end zone.

“A win for teachers, students and parents,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey tweeted yesterday evening after news leaked out of the new CPS plan. “It’s sad that we have to strike or threaten to strike to be heard, but when we fight we win!”

An equally unsubtle Davis Gates told my colleague A.D. Quig that the need to start the school year remote-only has “been obvious to everyone in the world except for our mayor” and President Donald Trump. CTU members were “deeply frustrated that we even had to talk work stoppages in this moment,” Davis Gates said. 

The truth here is much more nuanced.

Though that CTU pressure clearly was there—Lightfoot says she decided on the basis of "science," not because of political pressure—dozens of suburban districts have announced remote-only fall instruction plans since CPS announced its proposal July 17. So have many other big-city school systems such as Los Angeles, though New York so far is sticking with its hybrid model.

Beyond that, COVID numbers in the city have worsened since July 17, not as severely as city officials imply—for instance, the number of new positive cases each day is still running well below the 400 figure officials often cite—but still worse.

Sources close to the matter say CPS and the mayor’s office assumed the case count and other metrics would continue to improve when they announced the original plan in July and were caught unawares when the opposite occurred. But when it did, Lightfoot continued to insist that there would be no change in plans until at least the end of August. That left room for CTU to pounce, and it sure did.

Complicating Lightfoot’s political problem here is that the same kinds of tactical mistakes were made during the CTU strike over a new contract last year.

Insiders continue to insist that the five-year deal is worth it, even though there are rising questions over how to pay for it. But what will be remembered by the union and other politicians is that after vowing not to pay union members for days they were on strike, Lightfoot crossed her own line in the sand and agreed to add five “makeup” days at the end of the year, for which teachers got paid but little if any education occurred.

Now, CTU is quite capable of overplaying its hand. In a statement today, it demanded not only a detailed plan for remote education but a basic minimum income for all city residents, “immediately taxing the rich to provide broadband internet and devices to every child in CPS” and more.

Obtaining those goals will become easier if the mayor continues to leave the impression that she’s been rolled. So will obtaining the union’s prime goal, getting state lawmakers to strip the mayor of direct control over CPS and require that Board of Education members be elected—any number of which likely would be in CTU’s pocket and vote to spend even more money that CPS does not have because, in the union’s view, what’s good for CTU is the same as what’s good for you.

Trying to educate children during a pandemic is beyond difficult. Adding mayoral politics and political mistakes into the mix just makes it harder.

Update 2:55 p.m.—A progressive coalition to which CTU belongs, the Grassroots Education Movement, has an even more extensive list of “demands” about what must happen now.

Included: no police in schools, even if the Local School Council wants them; “universal” income support for parents and free child care for all; curriculum that is “relevant to students’ lives, current events and what caring for each other looks for;” 90 percent contract tracing before schools reopen; and daily sanitation of schools by unionized personnel. Among other things.

26-Delivered

via Crain’s Chicago Business

August 6, 2020 at 06:59AM

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