RIVER NORTH — The Chicago Teachers Union charged that rumors circulating that Chicago Public Schools might end the school year early likely are coming from the school district itself — despite official denials.
The union said that CPS was engaging in a disinformation campaign to create chaos and discourage a strike next month.
"They are spreading this rumor to avoid a possible May strike," union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said Tuesday. "Because if you have employees thinking they will lose money from a 'shortened' school year ... they may be thinking this is the best way to divert and have members balk at walking."
Calling it "some kind of rumor mill tactic," Gadlin said to "remember there is no strike pay, and how would members make up those days if the school year has officially ended?" She called it "like a back-end furlough."
CPS has vociferously denied that it plans to end the school year early, and it attempted to clear up any confusion Tuesday.
"The only reason that schools could close early is if the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union strikes before the end of the school year," said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner.
"Our objective is to reach a final deal with the CTU to prevent a strike, and we believe we can because an independent third party recommended an agreement that the CTU leadership negotiated and agreed to earlier this year," Bittner said. "If we are unable to achieve a deal, CPS has begun developing contingency plans so that students can graduate if the CTU leadership launches a strike."
And at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool denied the rumors of furloughs and said the district's objective is to avoid a strike. CPS is still at the "bargaining table with CTU leadership."
"Preserving learning time for our students is our highest priority," Claypool said.
A letter sent to all principals from CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson on April 18 and obtained by DNAinfo could be adding fuel to the fire. While the letter repeatedly refers to a potential "work stoppage," the district does not mention furloughs or the possibility it would end the year early itself.
The memo discusses plans for closing out the school year and notes this year there is "the unfortunate possibility that a work stoppage will occur prior to June 21," the currently scheduled last day of school.
The letter gives guidelines for making sure the district's grading software is updated in a timely matter in event of a stoppage and also gives plans for canceling final exams and maintaining graduation ceremonies.
The letter warned that "as always, principals should be actively monitoring Gradebook to ensure teachers are entering their grades on time," and it set tentative deadlines in June for grades and other reports to be updated and submitted.
After getting the memo, one school instructed teachers to update their grades weekly.
Yet if schools are shut down for the rest of the year, there will be a new schedule for distributing report cards, the letter states.
"In the event the work stoppage continues through the remainder of the school year, report cards will be generated and ready for schools to print based on an updated schedule," the letter reads.
Teachers have declared an impasse in negotiations for a new contract with CPS, and a fact-finding report — one of the last legal obstacles to be cleared before a strike can be declared — was issued April 16. Thus, after a 30-day "cooling-off period," May 16, a Monday, would be the earliest date the union could declare its intent to strike.
The union then would have to give 10 days' notice before a walkout could begin May 27, according to Gadlin. Rank-and-file teachers might be dissuaded from striking if they thought the school year might end only two weeks later, she said.
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