Chicago Public Schools will cancel in-person classes Wednesday after the Chicago Teachers’ Union voted Tuesday to strike against in-person schooling and conduct remote instruction until the Omicron spike subsides.
With 73 percent in favor, the union’s 22,000 members voted to take a “remote work action” starting Wednesday. General membership was asked to make a final decision on the proposal after the House of Delegates, CTU’s governing body, voted 555–77, with 88 percent in favor, to advance the item earlier Tuesday. The suspension of in-person teaching could continue until January 18 or until the virus-infection rate in the district hits below the threshold set last year.
Last year’s school closure threshold is a test positivity rate of 10 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.
Chicago Public Schools said it would cancel classes on Wednesday, but keep schools open to provide essential services to students, in the event of an affirmative union vote. Schools had resumed in-person learning Monday following the two-week winter break.
Lightfoot said at a press conference Tuesday that she had 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.
“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.
She clarified that if the union votes to take classes online and teachers walk out Wednesday, it will constitute an “illegal” collective action and those who participate will be on no-pay status. Then, classes will be canceled altogether, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez confirmed, because the district does not have the authority to go remote. That authority must come from the state’s governor, he specified.
The mayor said that working parents are going to have to “scramble” to make accommodations to keep their children at home if the district is forced to cancel classes. She said she hopes the union proposal does not survive the vote and teachers still show up to school Wednesday.
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.
“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.”
Martinez has 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.”
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 regime.