After failing to reach a deal with the teachers’ union on remote learning and other COVID-19 safety procedures over the weekend, Chicago school officials delayed classes for a fourth day in the nation’s third-largest district.
Not a joint statement issued Sunday evening, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said there had been “insufficient progress” in discussions to restart in-person courses on Monday, prolonging the disruptions into a second school week. They promised, though, that talks would go on “all night.”
Testing and measures for closing schools were among the hotly debated topics. The Chicago Teachers Union wants the opportunity to switch to districtwide remote teaching, and most members have refused to teach in person until a deal is reached or the next COVID-19 increase passes. However, Chicago officials oppose district-wide remote learning, claiming that it is harmful to pupils and that schools are secure. Instead, two days after students returned from Christmas break, Chicago decided to cancel all classes.
As illnesses rise and staff employees are laid off, Chicago is dealing with the same pandemic concerns as other districts throughout the country, with more students opting for remote learning. However, in union-friendly Chicago, the situation has been amplified in a labor dispute that has been familiar to families in the mostly low-income Black and Latino district, who have experienced disruptions during a similar safety protocol fight last year, a 2019 strike, and a one-day work stoppage in 2016.
The statement came as several principals had already informed families that their schools would be closed for teaching on Monday due to staffing shortages in the roughly 350,000-student district.
The tone of Lightfoot and Martinez’s Sunday evening statement showed greater progress than a day earlier, when they stated, “CTU leadership, you’re not listening” and promised not to “relent” immediately after the union made its latest offer public. Teachers were to report to schools on Monday to distribute computers for remote learning, which was to begin temporarily on Wednesday. Both parties have filed grievances with the state labor board.
Union officials have accused Lightfoot of intimidation, claiming that although they agree that in-person training is preferable, the epidemic is forcing them to make difficult decisions. Due to kids and instructors being isolated for suspected virus exposure and families electing to keep their children home voluntarily, attendance was low ahead of the cancellations.
The union stated in a statement Sunday that the desire to be in the classroom “must be balanced by ensuring those classrooms are safe, healthy, and well-resourced, with the right mitigation essential to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
After the district’s cancellation on Sunday evening, union officials had no quick comment.
Over the weekend, there looked to be some progress toward a settlement.
The district, which calls the protest a “illegal strike,” announced late Saturday that it will increase substitute teacher incentives, supply KN95 masks to all instructors and children, and Illinois will provide around 350,000 antigen testing. However, crucial concerns such as COVID-19 measures, which will lead to individual school closures and compensation, remained a point of contention for both parties. The district has said that instructors who fail to go to school will not be compensated, even if they attempt to connect into remote teaching systems. The union does not want any of its 25,000 members to face disciplinary action or wage cuts.
District management had suggested that if enough staff showed up, certain schools could be able to teach on Monday even if no deal had been reached; all facilities have remained open for food pickup. Only a few principals, on the other hand, expected to be able to open with personnel.
School officials have bragged about a $100 million safety plan that includes air filters in every classroom. In addition, 91 percent of the workforce is vaccinated, and masks are needed indoors.
When there are illnesses, some individual classrooms have temporarily moved to remote instruction since the start of the academic year. However, municipal health authorities believe that most kids sent to quarantine due of suspected classroom exposure do not catch COVID-19, and so oppose a widespread return to remote learning. To reduce isolation times, the district is testing a “test to stay” program.
The union claims that the safeguards are insufficient, especially in light of the omicron-fueled surge that has thrown the return to work and class into disarray. It also chastised the district for not enrolling enough children in a testing program and for using an inadequate COVID-19 infection database.
Last week, several district families, represented by the Chicago-based conservative Liberty Justice Center, launched a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures, while over 5,000 others signed a petition calling for a return to in-person education.