The Chicago Teachers Union and central office have negotiated a four-month extension for the 58 teachers from reconstituted high schools who remain unassigned, and the union is going to try to play matchmaker.

The teachers now have until the end of October—past the peak hiring season—to find a job elsewhere in the system or be dismissed. Further, the union is forming a committee to help match them up with vacant positions, says spokesperson Jackie Gallagher. “There has been a problem with principals letting the board know where there are vacancies,” she explains.

If any of the 58 teachers ends up being dismissed, Gallagher says, the union will file a lawsuit charging that the 1995 amendment to the Chicago School Reform Act violates tenured teachers’ rights. The amendment ruled out union negotiations on a wide range of issues, including teacher layoffs. Under the law, Gallagher acknowledges, “The board can make its own policy.”

When it took office, the Reform Board adopted as a matter of policy a previously negotiated process for the layoff of “reserve” teachers, teachers who lose their positions because of declining enrollment or program changes at individual schools. Reserve teachers get to stay on the payroll for 20 months while seeking another permanent assignment in the system. The board unilaterally shortened this grace period to 10 months for teachers who were not rehired at reconstituted schools.

Gallagher argues further that many of Vallas’ reconstitution teams made snap decisions on staff retention. “The principal is the one who made the decision, and in most cases those principals were new hires and knew nothing about those teachers. [The teachers’] records were not used in the interview process, nor was any classroom observation used.”

Vallas says he isn’t worried about the potential lawsuit. “We don’t do things that are legally risky,” he maintains. “We do things that we think will withstand a legal confrontation in court.”

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