News Analysis Dec 16, 2020 3:53 PM EST

Chicago schools forced to hire babysitters for classrooms after union blocks teachers from teaching

CPS intends to hire 2,000 helpers to make sure kids in class are staying masked, socially distanced, and fixated on remote learning screens while teachers stay home.

Chicago schools forced to hire babysitters for classrooms after union blocks teachers from teaching
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY
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As the school system tries to open, the Chicago Teachers Union refuses to allow its members to get back into the classroom. As a result, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plans to hire classroom monitors to basically babysit kids in class, while teachers remain behind screens conducting lessons remotely.

CPS intends to hire 2,000 helpers, half of whom would earn $15 per hour, to make sure kids in class are staying masked, socially distanced, and fixated on remote learning screens while teachers stay home.

The new jobs, according to a job posting obtained by the Chicago Sun Times, will be responsible to supervise "students who are learning in person is [the] classroom teacher is teaching remotely." The concern of CPS is that as school open, teachers will stage sickouts, and simply call out instead of showing up to work.

Approximately 1,000 of these workers will be called "cadre substitute" teachers, and these will be union positions, but will be classed as temporary. The other half of the posts will be non-union, part-time, temporary positions.

"Staffing is a concern, I don't want to pretend like it's not," CPS human resources chief Matt Lyons said. "But I'm confident about where we are right now and that we'll be able to provide a good learning experience for those who come in person."

CPS has said that schools will be open as of Jan. 4, and that preschool and special education teachers should be back to work on that first Monday of the new year. Jan. 25 marks the opening day for elementary school teachers. Students are slated to return a week after their teachers.

Principals said that they've already received multiple requests, to the tune of a quarter to half of their teachers, to stay home due to fears over COVID. Lyons said that the new, non-union, supervisory hires is "really in anticipation of teachers and other staff being out, it's not a response to what we're seeing."

As the third-largest school system in the country, CPS has been struggling to bring the Chicago Teachers Union to the table. The powerful union staged an 11-day strike in 2019, that received wide support from progressives on the national stage, including Elizabeth Warren. After gaining much of what they demanded by keeping kids out of class, they are now holding up the education of Chicago school children for still further demands.

Chicago Public Schools have been closed since March, when their doors were barred to children due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Chicago Teachers Union has been vocal in keeping the schools closed, and have advocated for remote learning as a means to keep kids educated. Chicago Public Schools disagree. They want the schools open and the children of Chicago back in class.

The Chicago Teachers Union claimed that advocates who want kids in schools are racist. When the schools came up with the beginnings of a reopening plan, the Chicago Teachers Union filed an injunction to stop it. This even though they refused to negotiate with the school district to come up with a plan.

Stacy Davis Gates, VP of the Chicago Teachers Union, said that she wasn't aware of the new hires, but that hiring these non-union, low paid workers to be on the front lines instead of teachers would be "slightly less terrible than forcing teachers to engage in synchronous learning from unsafe buildings."

But Gates did slam CPS for "hiring people into a position that barely pays minimum wage, with zero health care benefits in the middle of a pandemic, seems particularly cynical."

She said that "CPS can try to exploit low-wage temporary workers to fill in for staff who are not willing to sacrifice their lives for their livelihoods, when they must instead come to the table and bargain collaboratively to land what we need to return to our school buildings and our students safely — enforceable safety standards and real equity for Black and Brown school communities starved of equity for years before this pandemic."

Gates did not note when teachers would be willing to return to their work in classrooms teaching Chicago's children.

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