Most of the Chicago Public Schools teachers and staffers who are scheduled to return to classrooms next week for the first time in nine months haven’t raised any qualms about doing so with the district — but almost a third of them requested to work from home or take a leave of absence.
That’s according to data released by the district Tuesday on the 7,002 pre-kindergarten and special education cluster program employees who were asked to return to work Jan. 4 after the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic closure.
Two-thirds of those employees — 4,684 of them — didn’t ask for leave or accommodations.
Another 2,010 employees did apply to stay home or take leave. The district granted 861 of those requests and rejected 1,149 of them, or about 16% of all returning workers. An additional 308 requests are pending, according to CPS.
The 7,002 pre-K and cluster employees make up the first wave of returning CPS workers, followed by K-8 teachers Jan. 25. Hybrid in-person learning for K-8 students is scheduled to resume Feb. 1.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton noted about 79% of the first wave of returning employees either didn’t ask for any accommodations — or received them. All 527 employees who requested leave or absence due to a personal underlying health condition were granted it.
“Health and safety are the district’s highest priorities and accommodations for remote work have been granted to all teachers and staff who have documented medical conditions as defined by the CDC, and where possible, accommodations were also granted to staff who live with someone with a high-risk medical condition, or who face child care challenges,” Bolton said in a statement.
But of the 790 employees who made requests because they reported living with someone who has a serious medical condition — and therefore would be more vulnerable to COVID-19 — only 148 requests were approved, or about 19% of them, while 642 were rejected.
The district said it’s revisiting that number, though, because the initial request process “did not distinguish between individuals living with medically-vulnerable individuals and those who are caregivers.” Primary caregivers will be prioritized in a new process.
“While the district cannot guarantee every one of these caregiver requests will be granted a remote work accommodation, we expect that we will grant the vast majority of their requests,” CPS said in a statement.
The district received 513 requests from employees who reported issues finding childcare accommodations; just 59 were approved and 454 were rejected.
The Chicago Teachers Union has pushed back against the district’s reopening plan, arguing it puts their workers at risk while the pandemic rages on.
Earlier this month, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board denied their bid halt reopening, but CTU leaders have said “all options will be on the table for our union to enforce our rights and protect the health, safety, and livelihoods of students, educators and all families.”