Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced masks will be optional for staff and students at schools and on school buses beginning Monday, March 14setting up another showdown with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) over COVID-19 safety protocols, The Chicago Tribune reported.
CTU filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state labor board on March 7, asking for the mandate to continue until the union's complaint is resolved. Universal masking is one of the facets of the COVID-19 safety agreement that CTU forged with CPS in January after an acrimonious battle led to five days of canceled classes during the COVID omicron surge.
In a letter sent to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, outgoing CTU President Jesse Sharkey warned that moving to a mask-optional policy would be a "clear violation" of the agreement.
In response to questions about CTU's unfair labor complaint, CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus released a statement noting the "enormous change in circumstances since the CTU agreement was reached at the height of the omicron surge. ... Since that time, every local, state and federal public health agency has recommended that masking become optional."
Illinois public health officials reported 735 new COVID cases and no related deaths on March 7, according to ABC 7 News.
In addition, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported 1,102 new cases and 30 deaths on March 5, and 770 new cases and zero related deaths on March 6. The days with zero reported deaths are the first times the state has reported no COVID-related deaths since July 25, 2021.
However, IDPH said, "Daily deaths reported on weekends and at the beginning of the week may be low as IDPH and local health departments move away from reviewing and processing COVID-19 death records over the weekend. Those deaths will be captured in subsequent days."