Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on Monday opened its classrooms for students returning from winter break, but members of the city’s teachers union will soon vote to decide whether to collectively refuse to work in person.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is set to vote on Tuesday on whether its more than 25,000 members would continue in-person work or begin remotely working from home. If teachers vote in favor of remote work as they did one year ago in January 2021, the school district may have to send its 330,000 students home with laptops and internet hotspots as soon as Wednesday.
The union has released a list of demands it wants the district to meet in order to keep the teachers in classrooms. Specifically, the CTU demands that the first two weeks of the new school year go fully remote, that every student provides a negative COVID-19 test result to enter school buildings, and that the CPS sets criteria to determine when one school or all schools should close, among other measures the union says would address its COVID-19 concerns.
“The proposal is designed to address the impact of the worst COVID outbreak in the history of the pandemic,” the CTU said, accusing the school district of being unwilling to “invest in more testing, contact tracing, vaccine initiatives, and other safety tools.”
In response to the union’s threat to work remotely without the city’s approval, Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted that schools will stay open for in-person learning, and that the school district has done adequately to keep teachers safe.
“Our schools are not the source of significant spread,” Lightfoot said Monday during an interview on CNBC. “The issue is community spread. But we need to keep our kids in schools, which is what we’re going to do in Chicago.”
The mayor then pointed to the negative effects on students caused by the prolonged school closures, saying that the devastating impacts are usually overlooked in the “coverage of the saber-rattling by teachers union leadership.”
“We know that learning loss was profound. We know that there were huge gaps in achievement. We know that the mental health and trauma issues of our students was real. And we know that it was devastating on families, particularly those families where parents could not afford to stay home from work,” she told CNBC.
According to the latest available data from Dec. 30 by the Chicago Department of Public Health, the city now has a daily average of about 4,000 new COVID-19 cases, with a 42 percent increase in overall cases compared to the previous week. More than 70 percent of Chicago’s residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.