Chicago officials on Jan. 8 forcefully rejected a teachers union proposal that would make classes virtual for at least four days.
“CTU leadership, you’re not listening,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”
The statement came shortly after the Chicago Teachers Union released a proposal (pdf) that, if accepted, would have seen teachers return to schools on Jan. 10, but only to help distribute devices and COVID-19 tests to students.
Under the proposal, classes would start remotely on Jan. 12 and continue until Jan. 19, unless Chicago or state officials “determine that public health conditions are not safe for in-person school at that time,” in which case in-person learning would be off the table until deemed safe.
The plan also calls for Chicago Public Schools to provide KN95 masks for staff and students to use and introduce triggers for shifting school to virtual learning, such as an increase for seven straight days of COVID-19 test positivity rate in Chicago.
The union said that its proposal is necessary amid the spike in COVID-19 cases and that Lightfoot’s proposal “would not pause in-person learning until half of the school is out with COVID-19—long after school populations had fallen below the number of adults in the building to safely supervise students.”
The mayor and Martinez have insisted schools are safe for learning even amid the surge, pointing out that various measures have already been implemented during the pandemic, including a testing program.
Lightfoot has urged teachers to return to school and described the union’s action as an “illegal work stoppage.”
“My hope is that we are going to get a deal struck here in the next day or so that gets our kids back in school, in-person learning, and the deal covers the duration of the school year and we don’t have any additional disruptions,” she said on MSNBC on Jan. 7.
After most union members voted not to teach in-person on Jan. 4 until cases subside or the city agreed to a set of demands, Chicago Public Schools canceled classes on Jan. 5. The city later canceled classes the following two days amid negotiations with the union.
The White House has said schools should remain open despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, as officials point to studies that indicate closing schools does not curb the spread of the disease.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been in touch with Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, another Democrat, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Jan. 7.
“Illinois has been provided $5 billion in American Rescue Plan money for their schools, which we continue to provide robust engagement and technical expertise on how to best use this funding to help school needs during the pandemic,” she said.
A group of parents, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit against CTU, asserting the union is violating state law and its collective bargaining agreement by trying to switch suddenly to remote learning. The union didn’t respond to a request for comment.