The tension between Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the powerful Teachers’ Union reached a fever pitch Tuesday night. The rank-and-file members of the union voted in a late night session they were overwhelmingly (73%) in favor of going back to remote learning until at least January 18th, when the union will once again evaluate the severity of Omicron cases within the “windy city.”
Officials for Chicago Public Schools cancelled classes Wednesday as the school system clashed with the Teachers’ Union over their desire to temporarily go back to a remote learning model. This way of learning has had dire consequences for a majority of Chicago students, especially those “at risk” students within the inner city who may never rebound from the closures.
City officials are advising the Teachers’ Union they will not accept the return to remote learning, opting instead to cancel classes, extracurricular activities, and sporting events. Lightfoot also warned union leaders that if they continue pushing for the remote learning model, the city is prepared to challenge their action in court as an “illegal work stoppage”.
Chicago public schools canceled classes Wed. after city officials and the teachers union disagreed on remote learning, amid a surge in COVID cases. 73% of union members voted to stay out of schools.— AJ+ (@ajplus) January 5, 2022
Chicago’s case rate is at a pandemic high with an average 4,500+ daily cases. pic.twitter.com/wltbApH96e
“Nobody signs up for being a home-schooler at the last minute. We can’t forget about how disruptive that remote process is to individual parents who have to work, who can’t afford the luxury of staying home,” the Democratic mayor said.
“What I’d love to see CTU do is not force an illegal work stoppage,” she announced. “What I’d love to see them do is work hand-in-glove with us to get kids and their families vaccinated.”
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Nevertheless, teachers are vowing not to return to the classroom until the current surge of infections is under control, or when Mayor Lightfoot submits to their demands.
Ironically, data from Chicago’s health department, along with other state health departments across the country, shows the rate of in-school transmission of COVID-19 to be minimal. Regardless of whether a child has received a vaccine or not, this age group seldom suffers any severe symptom from the virus.
Those facts have not stopped the CTU from accusing the district of failing to adequately meet the challenges of the new variant.
Pedro Martinez, the chief executive of the school district, said if COVID cases were spreading to large numbers of students and staff then he would act aggressively to shut down school buildings, even after he admitted that a “one-size-fits-all strategy” would not work.
Lightfoot responded, “Throwing up our hands and acting as if we don’t have this body of knowledge that our schools are safe, that we spent $100 million to make them safe, and that we have the vaccine, we don’t need a one-size-fits-all strategy.”
Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, stressed the need to keep schools open despite the sudden surge of the omicron variant, which is considerably more contagious, but far less deadly.
Appearing this past weekend on “Fox News Sunday”, Cardona made it clear that it was time to open in-person learning, despite the surge.
“We’ve been very clear, our expectation is for schools to be open full-time for students for in-person learning,” Cardona said. “We remember the impact of school closures on students last year.”
Cardona pointed to advancements made in the fight against COVID-19. He noted that “our science is better” and “we have better tools“, such as $10 billion for surveillance testing provided by the American Rescue Plan, and vaccinations that are available for children ages 5 and older.