Local state and city elected officials spoke in support of the Chicago Teachers Union as the labor group turned down what Chicago Public Schools described as its "last, best and final" offer on Friday.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said on Friday afternoon that they have not received a response to their negotiations from CTU leadership and that "the ball is in their court."
"In this city in 1900, we found a way to make a river flow backwards. I believe in 2021 we can find, at the very least, a way to open up our schools safely," said state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26th) "We are urging CPS and Mayor Lightfoot to come back to the table and let us get this done."
Speaking as a CPS graduate as well as the son and brother of CPS employees, Buckner said the reopening debate is not about a "return to normal," adding, "This is not a time to walk away. This is a time to get it right."
"We can't afford a return to normal," he said. "Normal doesn't work. We've got to be better than normal."
Furthermore, Buckner said this is a matter beyond politics, saying, "We have seen what COVID has done to us. We are putting already-vulnerable communities into deeper vulnerability if we don't take this seriously. We have the ability to get to higher ground on this."
State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) also referenced having been a CPS student, saying, "We need to make sure that we have a safe return."
"No gains, no drawing lines in the sand, no paternalism in this decision: work with teachers, work with out communities," he said. "We're in the midst of a pandemic, and we want to make sure that is done safely so that we can actually have these anchors for our kids and our communities."
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) spoke of the difficulties her CPS-enrolled son with autism has experienced over the pandemic. She said he is expected to be on a computer for eight hours a day, and she said she understands people who say students need to go back. But she worries for his safety if he would go.
"It's unreasonable for him to be on a computer for eight hours. I thought studies showed that kids being on a screen for eight hours was unhealthy? But you all would do it to our children?" she said. "What you should have done was ask teachers how we can roll this out that's healthy for all students, but you didn't do that. You threw together a plan, because you were all committed to putting young people into buildings. And it has not worked."
Her son does not go online every day, Taylor said, though he checks in and she gives him his work. He does not see see his paraprofessional for speech or psychiatry, she said, because those professionals are tied up helping other students.
"CTU is not saying 'let's not go back.' They're saying, 'Let's vaccinate teachers. Let's make sure the building is clean. Make sure we put every protection in place,'" Taylor said. "As a mother of an autistic student, I wouldn't know how to begin teaching Michael. There's some things that I've learned over the years to help him as a student, but I depend on his teachers to do that, and that just is not given to them."
"The thought that you would open your mouth to say that negotiations are over — that's it. Who do you represent? You don't represent us, because that's not what I would do," she said.