On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers’ Union voted to immediately switch to remote learning, citing COVID-19 concerns.
Classes were then cancelled across the district, which is the nation’s third largest. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced the closure following the union action that called for virtual instruction until union leaders approve an agreement with the district over pandemic safety protocols or until coronavirus “cases substantially subside.”
Carolina Barrera Tobón, a parent of two children in the first and third grades, accused the teachers union of “fearmongering” in a statement to CNN.
“I am very disappointed in the Chicago Teachers Union for the fearmongering tactics and negative rhetoric regarding this vote. I am equally disappointed in the CPS CEO and our mayor,” she told CNN. “I honestly do not trust the teachers union to stay remote for only two weeks after their continued spread of misinformation regarding the safety of our schools.”
Roughly 73% of the union’s 25,000 members approved the vote after taking over COVID safety protocols pertaining to the roughly 350,000-student school system.
“This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety,” the union said in a statement.
Students had just returned to classes after a two-week winter break when the closure was announced. School officials have insisted on keeping in-person instruction, despite the rise in infections, and district leaders called the union’s action a “walkout” and “illegal work stoppage.”
The union has argued that current protocols leave both teachers and students “vulnerable.”
According to the New York Post, the union’s main holdup pertains to what metrics the district should use to trigger school closures.
The union has called for past, since-expired COVID guidelines to be reinstated. The metrics sought by the district, that were previously used last school year, would authorize a two-week pause on in-person learning if citywide COVID-19 positivity rate increased for 7 consecutive days.
The district has instead proposed guidelines for individual schools and said it would allow schools to reinstate daily health screening questions for students and building visitors that were required last academic year, but did not believe unilaterally closing schools because of potentially unrelated COVID-19 cases was appropriate.
The plan CPS has proposed to the teachers union seeks to handle the issues at a school level.
The district said a school would move to virtual instruction if at least 40% of its classroom teachers are absent for two consecutive days because of infection and the school-wide teacher absence rate because of infection is 30% or higher with the use of substitutes or internal staff.
Even Democrat Mayor Lori Lightfoot was furious with the results of the Tuesday vote, telling teachers who don’t show up to class they will be placed on “no-pay status,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
“There is no basis in the data, the science or common sense for us to shut an entire system down when we can surgically do this at a school level,” Lightfoot said.
Chicago, like much of the country, has been experiencing a record-setting surge in COVID cases.
According to the Chicago Tribune, one in five district teachers were unable to report to work as of Monday, amounting to 1,900 adults currently in quarantine or isolation, along with 5,700 students. On Monday, 400 people tested positive from tests given at the schools themselves.
The district’s plans for the remainder of the school year have yet to be determined.
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