Chicago Public Schools failed to negotiate in good faith with the Chicago Teachers Union before dropping its universal mask requirement in March, an administrative law judge ruled last week.

It’s a win for CTU, albeit a hollow one. The judge recommended that the CPS refrain from changing or rescinding any policy contained in its January security agreement with CTU – but members have already overwhelmingly approved a new agreement for this school year.

“This decision, in some respects, is cold comfort because the past damage of bad faith and unlawful behavior by the mayor and the CPS cannot be undone,” CTU said in a statement Monday. “But the decision sets an important precedent that should deter the district from disregarding its legal and contractual obligations to its employees and their school communities in the future and help the union seek an injunction if CPS does so again. .”

The judge’s decision was issued on Friday, the same day the CTU-CPS COVID-19 agreement for the past school year expired. In a statement released Monday, the CPS said its health and safety measures were implemented in accordance with guidelines from the Chicago Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The CPS is reviewing the Hearing Officer’s recommended decision and order for next steps, as we respectfully disagree with the Hearing Officer’s analysis and recommendations in this matter. Our decisions were based on adherence to public health guidelines,” the district statement read.

A COVID-19 safety agreement in early 2021 paved the way for CPS buildings to reopen in waves after schools closed in March 2020. CTU and the district were unable to reach consensus on a new agreement before the 2021-22 school year, when students have returned for full-time in-person learning.

As cases surged in Chicago and across the country in early January, CTU members voted to refuse in-person work. A security agreement was reached on January 12 to end the standoff that saw classes canceled for five days.

On Feb. 28, as the statewide school mask mandate was lifted, CTU told CPS it would be unwilling to reopen its safety agreement unless the district met four demands: delay the move to a mask-optional policy until after April’s spring break; make accommodations for students and staff with health issues; establish a set of metrics on which a universal masking policy might need to be reinstated; and allowing CTU members to work extra days to make up missed instruction time and raise awareness for COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Instead, CPS announced on March 7 that it was dropping its mask requirement the following week. CTU balked and quickly filed a labor complaint with a state labor board, which declined to take immediate action. Friday’s 22-page ruling was based on arguments made at a hearing in April.

The Chicago Board of Education “knew or should have known that convincing the union to change the agreement to remove what the union undoubtedly considered a valuable part of the agreement was going to demand something in return,” the judge wrote. Nick Gutierrez in his decision. “Despite this, (the Board of Directors) made no proposals on the four points (then CTU Chairman Jesse) Sharkey requested in exchange for reopening negotiations, or counter-proposals on any other points. “

Gutierrez also rejected CPS arguments about pressure from legal battles led by Republican Attorney General nominee Thomas DeVore against COVID-19 mitigation strategies in schools. The Fourth District Court of Appeals “cast significant doubt on the theory that masking policies constitute quarantine,” Gutierrez wrote.

Gutierrez’s decision came the same day CTU members finished voting on a new security deal for this school year, which began last week. The union said its members voted by a 10-to-1 margin in favor of the deal. The House of Delegates – the governing body of the union which is usually made up of 600 to 800 members – decided on Wednesday to send the proposed deal to the full membership with 94% of the vote.

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The new agreement would maintain most of the COVID-19 protocols in the last safety agreement, including the school testing program, school- and district-level safety committees, and school-based vaccination events.

“Safety has been our priority for staff and students since the start of the pandemic. We are delighted to see teachers, students, staff and families back in schools this week and we are committed to ensuring everyone can continue to teach and learn safely,” the CPS said in a statement last week after the House of Delegates voted.

The agreement does not include a universal masking requirement, like the last agreement, but rather aligns with CPS’s policy of strongly recommending masking. Per district policy and CDC guidelines, unvaccinated close contacts of an infected person are no longer required to self-quarantine. They must mask up for 10 days after exposure as part of the CTU-CPS agreement.

The fact that CPS has COVID-19 protocols this school year has infuriated some parents, who called the Chicago Board of Education’s monthly meeting on Wednesday to complain during the public comment period.

“The public health benefits of these measures are questionable at best, but their ability to create stigma, annoyance and board-level lawsuits is all but guaranteed,” Nicholas Kryczka, parent of the board, said over the phone. SPC.

Those who test positive for COVID-19 must stay home for five days and wear a mask on days six through ten. About 535 student cases and 470 adult cases were recorded from August 18 to Sunday, according to CPS data. Nearly 23,000 cases among 272,000 students and more than 9,000 adult cases, including the November death of an elementary special education classroom assistant, were reported last school year.

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