In a letter (pdf) to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the union said that “new pandemic variants pose immediate threats to the health of all Chicagoans, but especially our unvaccinated student population,” while praising Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandate at schools.
The union then made demands for upgrades to schools’ ventilation systems, a testing plan for vaccinated and unvaccinated staff and students, full-time contact tracers and nurses “in every school building,” and “maintenance of criteria and health metrics based on COVID prevalence to pause in-person instruction.”
Throughout the pandemic, in some major metropolitan areas, there has been a back-and-forth battle between teachers unions, parents, and at times, local officials over when to restart in-person classes. The unions have faced criticism for essentially dragging their feet on reopening schools while issuing more and more demands tied to resuming in-person classes.
Some studies, including one from three U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers, have found there is little evidence that schools have contributed to a significant number of COVID-19 infections.
But the Chicago Teachers Union, which carried out a lengthy strike in late 2019, noted that Lightfoot’s office has not used $4 billion in federal funds for the city’s schools, calling on her to provide what it described as needed upgrades and safeguards against the virus.
“Open bargaining will provide Chicago families insight into how the [Chicago schools] budget will directly impact their children and schools, where we stand in negotiations today, and the gaps that must be closed before the fall return,” the letter said. “Merely surviving the COVID-19 pandemic is not enough. Chicago Public Schools needs to earn the trust and confidence of families across the city, and by joining our Union team for open bargaining, we can reach that goal together.”
For now, Chicago school students are slated to return to class starting Aug. 31. During the prior school year, elementary students returned to part-time in-person instruction in February while high school students returned in April, coming after about a year of distance or virtual learning.
And it’s not just the Chicago Teachers Union that has suggested schools may not reopen for in-person classes in the fall.
About a week ago, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten claimed that the fall reopening schedule isn’t a done deal, citing the Delta variant. For that, Weingarten got significant criticism.
“So the bottom line is, we’re going to keep kids safe, we’re going to keep our members safe, we’re going to try to open up schools, and we’re going to move through this political battlefield,” Weingarten said.
The Epoch Times has contacted Lightfoot’s office for comment.