Faculty seeks court order to suspend in-person learning

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Nicky Edwards-Levin

The injunction will be heard in the Circuit Court of Cook County on Dec. 8

Ella Beiser, Editor-in-Chief

Update Dec. 9: On Dec. 7 the Faculty Association filed a motion to move their lawsuit from state to federal court. According to Faculty Association president Jim Catlett, the FA will withdraw its motion if the administration agrees to arbitration and provides a list of arbitrators to hear the case before Jan. 4.  

Concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, teachers of Lab’s youngest students want the option to teach from home, and they have gone to court for a solution. 

Earlier this week, the Faculty Association filed a request for an injunction requiring the University of Chicago to  permit Nursery to Grade 2 faculty to conduct their classes online or to use their sick and personal days following Nov. 30 if they choose. N-2 faculty have been teaching in person since September.

The injunction filing also requests that faculty face no disciplinary action as a result of their decision and that the university agree to an expedited arbitration process to settle the dispute.

The injunction is set to be heard in the Circuit Court of Cook County on Dec. 8

According to Faculty Association President Jim Catlett, some teachers are concerned about the rising COVID-19 case positivity rate especially following Thanksgiving break.

“If people traveled and they spent time with extended family,” Mr. Catlett, a high school science teacher, said, “the fact that Thanksgiving happens on Thursday and people return to school on Monday, that’s such a short period of time that people could be infectious but not yet symptomatic.” 

In an email to the Midway, Laboratory Schools Interim Director David Magill declined to comment until after the hearing.

We’ve been using those guidelines in the past when we did not object to opening up for nursery through second grade because of the lower positivity rates at the time.”

— Jim Catlett

The FA and administration have been following guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We’ve been using those guidelines in the past when we did not object to opening up for nursery through second grade because of the lower positivity rates at the time,” Mr. Catlett said. 

Since school began in September, the number of COVID-19 cases in the city and county as well as the positivity rate of tests have increased dramatically.

“And now that we’re in the categories of risk that indicate substantial or highest risk of COVID-19 transmission within the school,” Mr. Catlett said, “that’s why we feel that the school should pivot toward remote.”

According to the CDC, when case positivity rates are above 10%, schools are at the highest risk of transmission and the IDPH states that when positivity rates surpass 8%, schools are at substantial risk of community spread. As of Nov. 27, Chicago’s seven-day average of case positivity rate was 11.6%, down from 12.2% the week prior, according to the City of Chicago website. 

In October, Laboratory Schools officials reported three positive COVID-19 cases of individuals who had attended in-person classes or activities on campus. 

Mr. Catlett also mentioned that he believes the injunction is supported by the Collective Bargaining Agreement that states, “The Laboratory Schools, utilizing resources available to it and the University of Chicago, and in keeping with both recognized safety and occupational health standards and standards designated for schools, shall make provisions for the safety and health of its employees during their hours of employment.”

Dr. Magill sent an email to N-2 parents informing them of the FA’s interest in closing school following Thanksgiving and winter break on Nov. 29. 

“I find it disappointing that Dave Magill chose to send out the email that he did to the parents,” Mr. Catlett said. “I think in that email that he sent, it made it seem like the union had just sprung this on the administration. We had been discussing this with administration for quite some time and we had recommended that it would behoove the administration to give the parents advance notice.”