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Chicago Public Schools To Lift Mask Mandate, Teachers Union Immediately Pushes Back

Last updated on March 8, 2022

On Monday, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced it will be making masks optional for employees and students at schools and on school buses starting March 14th, but the Chicago Teachers Union is not pleased with the decision. 

The school district noted that it’s still encouraging students and adults to wear masks, and will keep carrying out its contact tracing methods and on-site COVID-19 testing.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, “CPS’ announcement comes three days before a March 10 court date for the district and downstate attorney Tom DeVore, who has been trying to halt the CPS mask and exclusion mandate. Parents who participated in DeVore’s litigation challenging Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school COVID-19 policies argued the CPS mask mandate violates their students’ due process rights.”

“I am in receipt of the CPS announcement that effective Monday, March 14, 2022 the district will drop its unlawful mask mandate. It’s unfortunate CPS had to be faced with the imminent issuance of a restraining order before finding the courage to take a stand against the teachers union unlawful bargaining provisions,” DeVore said in a statement. “I’m excited for the parents of CPS students who will now be free to exercise their right to choose what’s best for their children instead of being dictated to by overreaching bureaucracies. The rule of law exists to protect everyone in this state including all children who attend CPS. I will not stop until we are certain these unlawful mandates are never forced upon any child of this state again.”

The teachers union said Monday it “will immediately be filing an unfair labor practice charge against the district in response, and requesting that CPS bargain over this decision.” Compulsory masking is one of the parts of the COVID-19 deal the teachers union made with CPS in January after a disagreement resulted in five days of canceled classes for students. 

In a letter Friday to Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D), CTU President Jesse Sharkey reportedly provided a warning, saying that transitioning to a mask-optional rule would be a “clear violation” of the deal.

As The Daily Wire reported last month, as several school districts around Illinois made masks optional, CPS planned to continue to require masks following the January deal with the teachers union. 

“We have made great progress in recent weeks against this virus, and we do not want to jeopardize that progress by moving too quickly,” CPS said in a release at the time. “We look forward to the day when we can be mask-optional at CPS, but we still need to get more students vaccinated across our district, and we still need to work with our public health and labor partners on the best way to preserve a safe in-person learning environment for all.”

In a statement at the time, the Chicago Teachers Union said it was “glad that CPS will continue to honor the safety agreement that our members sacrificed four days of pay [for] last month … despite a right-wing legal attack to remove public health protections.”

On Monday, the school district reportedly said that 49% of CPS students are fully vaccinated and over 91% of CPS faculty members are fully vaccinated. At the Chicago Board of Education meeting on February 23rd, the board members had said that the CPS mask rule would remain due to the fact that student vaccination numbers differ between schools.

In a statement regarding the new actions, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said, “CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools, and we would not be moving to a mask-optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicated that it is safe for our school communities,” adding, “We will support our staff and students as we enter this new phase in the pandemic and continue to move forward together.” 

CTU said in its own statement, “Today’s move by Mayor Lightfoot and CPS not only violates the union’s agreement with the district, it ignores the impact that COVID-19 has on communities of color,” adding, “The mayor has instead prioritized the wishes of Tom Devore — an opportunistic, right-wing extremist hundreds of miles away from Chicago — over the wishes of the people of our city.”

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