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Chicago Democratic Mayor Lightfoot throws down gauntlet, orders teachers to return to classrooms Monday or face discipline

After a contentious weekend in which Chicago Teachers Union officials apparently failed to show up for negotiations with Chicago Public Schools officials on Sunday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) ordered a sizeable number of the city’s teachers to show up in their classrooms on Monday or face discipline.

“All teachers, pre-K through eight and cluster teachers must report. If you don’t have an approved accommodation, we expect to see you back in class. Those who do not report to work … we will have to take action. Let’s avoid that,” Lightfoot said in a Sunday press conference announcing the decision. Lightfoot indicated that teachers who refused to show up on Monday would be locked out of their virtual learning software and would be considered absent without leave for disciplinary purposes.

Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools officials have been locked in contentious negotiations with Chicago Teachers Union officials, who have sought to delay the reopening of the nation’s third-largest school system until a number of union demands have been met. Teachers were originally scheduled to return to work last week, but union officials ordered teachers to stay home as a bargaining technique.

The union and school district were supposed to engage in negotiations throughout the weekend, but CTU officials apparently were a no-show for the Sunday session, which provoked Lightfoot’s ire. The two sides pointed fingers at each other on Twitter over Sunday’s empty negotiation session.

Lightfoot’s order has raised the specter of another teacher strike, which would be the second major strike to affect Chicago schools in less than two years. In this case, however, city officials contend (and most legal experts agree) that such a strike would be illegal and may subject the union and its members to additional legal consequences.

Illinois state law specifically prohibits teachers from striking while they are under contract. Union officials have maintained that federal law permits them to strike if unfair labor practices exist; however, by its terms, federal law only applies to workers in the private sector. The last time Chicago teachers struck while under contract in 2016, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board ruled the strike illegal.

Lightfoot insists, consistent with the best available scientific research, that CPS’ plan to reopen schools has rendered them safe. “We implemented our plan with pre-K and cluster teachers and students coming back into classrooms safely. Our schools are safe.”

Parents were encouraged not to bring their students into schools Monday, but rather were told that Tuesday would be the first day for student presence in the schools.

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