Chicago schools keep mask mandate despite end to city, state requirement

Chicago schools keep mask mandate despite end to city, state requirement

Teachers union agreements may dictate enforcement of school mask policies – even if Illinois lifts its statewide school mask mandate, a judge noted.

Chicago students will remain masked because the Chicago Teachers Union has a safety agreement with city schools that carries more weight than state laws or elected leaders’ dictates.

That union power was underscored in the same court order that lifted Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandates for many Illinois public school students. Still, if Amendment 1 passes in November, that authority to dictate students’ actions concerning safety procedures will be given to union bosses permanently.

School mask mandates lifted but Chicago Public Schools remain masked

The temporary restraining order filed Feb. 4 by Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow prevents the state and defendant school districts from enforcing the governor’s school mask mandate. It also spurred many Illinois public school districts to allow students the choice of whether to mask in class.

Then, the Illinois General Assembly’s bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules used Grischow’s TRO on Feb. 15 in voting to prevent Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health from reissuing emergency rules the judge had nullified.

While many Illinois students are now exercising the right to choose whether to mask in school, the Chicago Teachers Union is making that choice for CPS students. That’s because the union refused to let teachers show up for work for five days and forced the district to make a “safety agreement.”

CTU claims its union agreement with CPS outlining COVID-19 safety protocols requires the continuation of masking procedures at district schools because of language in Grischow’s TRO indicating collective bargaining agreements might require masking or other measures despite her order.

In her decision, Grischow acknowledged individual collective bargaining agreements would have to be analyzed one-by-one to determine what has and has not been bargained, indicating the authority to mandate masks for students is given to union agreements – not districts, parents or students.

CTU’s safety agreement with CPS

After CTU walked out in early January and forced students to lose five days of instruction, city schools and the union approved a safety agreement including the requirement that anyone who enters a CPS facility must wear a mask at all times.

Following the ruling that temporarily restrained the governor’s school mask mandate, CPS outlined its plan to keep COVID-19 protocols. District leaders said, “The court’s current ruling does not prohibit CPS from exercising its authority to continue its COVID-19 mitigation policies and procedures, including universal masking by students and staff and vaccination and testing requirements for staff members.”

The announcement by CPS to maintain COVID-19 protocols comes with a nod from the Chicago Teachers Union, which stated it stands “shoulder to shoulder” with the district in the decision to enforce the safety protocols agreed upon by the district and union in January.

Even if Pritzker lifts the statewide mask mandate in schools, CTU’s safety agreement with CPS would keep CPS students masked in classrooms.

Amendment 1 solidifies union control over safety measures

While even now CPS students are left wearing masks in school at the behest of union leaders, the passage of Amendment 1 on the ballot Nov. 8 would ensure union agreements on workplace safety protocols can overpower state law or executive mandates.

That’s because Amendment 1 seeks to prohibit lawmakers from interfering with, negating or diminishing union power. It would prevent any future legislation that limits the subjects a union can bargain over, such as the COVID-19 safety measures keeping Chicago students in masks.

If Amendment 1 passes, then special safety arrangements such as CTU’s safety agreement with CPS could never be curtailed by the legislature. Union bosses will  permanently gain authority to decide whether Illinois schoolchildren must wear masks in class, or take any other measures deemed necessary by unions for teachers’ “safety at work” – regardless of how Illinois students might be harmed.

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