Chicago Public Schools will cancel in-person classes Wednesday in anticipation of the Chicago Teachers’ Union voting Tuesday to strike against in-person schooling and conduct remote instruction until the Omicron spike subsides.
The CTU’s governing body, the House of Delegates, voted 555-77, with 88 percent in favor, on Tuesday to allow the union’s 25,000 members to hold a subsequent vote on the proposed “remote work action,” which will continue until January 18 or until the virus infection rate hits below the threshold set last year. The CTU’s 22,000 members will vote late Tuesday evening to make a final decision.
Expecting a “yes” vote from the members, Chicago Public Schools has cancelled classes on Wednesday but will keep schools open to provide essential services to students. Schools had resumed in-person learning Monday following the two-week winter break.
Last year’s school closure threshold is a test positivity rate of ten percent or higher that has increased for the previous seven consecutive days, each day at least one-fifth higher than the week before, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
CTU leaders argued that the Covid-19 variant surge is putting teachers and students at risk and that it would be irresponsible to return to school. The union had demanded that all students and staff present negative Covid-19 test results after winter vacation in order to come back.
On Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s committed to keeping schools open for the sake of students, whose education and mental health have already been severely disrupted by nearly two years of virtual schooling. She said the district is prepared to face the uptick in cases.
Lightfoot said at a press conference Tuesday that she asked the CTU to delay the vote and come to the “bargaining table” so the city could present its updated plan for returning to schools, but the union declined the offer. The mayor added that working parents are going to have to “scramble” to make accommodations for having their children at home.
“We should not allow the CTU to shut down an entire school system, and for what? We don’t know how long the CTU will stretch its work stoppage,” she said.
“What we have learned from this pandemic is that schools are the safest place for students to be: we have spent over a $100 million to put mitigations in place, most CPS staff members are vaccinated, and we generally see little transmission in school settings,” Lightfoot said in a statement earlier this week. “Keeping kids safely in school where they can learn and thrive is what we should all be focused on.”
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez echoed Lightfoot in insisting that schools remain open. In an email to the community Sunday, Martinez said he stands “firmly behind the decision to protect our student’s physical and mental health and promote their academic progress by keeping CPS schools safely open for in-person learning.”
At a press conference Tuesday, Martinez said the media and teacher frenzy over the safety of schools is not grounded in fact.
“The amount of noise that is out there right now, the amount of misinformation, we have so many people that are afraid from parents to my staff because of the misinformation and I again, I continue to plead, let’s listen to our medical professionals,” he said.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady reiterated that the virus poses minimal risk to children and therefore a reversion to school closure is unreasonable, especially given that the district plans to expand its testing protocol.
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