Due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, Chicago Public Schools officials postponed classes on Wednesday, the latest move in an ongoing debate over pandemic safety standards in the nation’s third-largest school system.
A district-wide return to remote instruction has been rejected by Chicago, which claims it would be devastating for children’s learning and mental health. The union, on the other hand, said that the district’s safety standards are inadequate, and that both instructors and pupils are at risk.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s motion, which received 73 percent of members’ approval, called for remote teaching until “cases considerably diminish” or union leaders reach a deal with the district on safety standards. Even though the district indicated there would be no instruction and didn’t deliver gadgets to kids before the union votes, which were revealed shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday, union members were told to try to enter into teaching systems on Wednesday.
In a statement, the union added, “This decision was taken with a heavy heart and a primary emphasis on student and community safety.”
Despite safety measures, such as a high teacher immunization rate, district administrators blamed the union for the late cancellation, claiming that “our teachers are not willing to go to work.”
“We are very worried about this decision, but much more so about its implications for our children’ and families’ health, safety, and well-being,” the district stated in a statement.
The rest of the week’s schedule remained uncertain, while district officials indicated a plan to “maintain student learning” will be announced later Wednesday. The union action was declared a “work stoppage” by school administrators, who stated that individuals who did not report to school on Wednesday would not be rewarded. During a similar argument last year, the district penalized teachers who did not show up to work.
Metrics that would prompt school closures are a contentious subject in the nearly 350,000-student system. The district recommended recommendations for specific school closures, claiming that safety measures like as mandatory masks, vaccination availability, and enhanced ventilation put schools among the safest locations for children to be. However, citing threats to kids and staff, the union has recommended benchmarks for district-wide shutdown.
COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations caused by the omicron version were at record levels when students returned to class Monday following a two-week Christmas vacation. School districts around the country have faced the same problem, with the majority preferring to remain open.
While the union described their strike as a measure to improve school safety standards, district officials referred to it as a “illegal work stoppage.” Last January, a bitter debate over identical concerns erupted, causing a rocky start to the district’s return to in-person instruction after going remote in March 2020.
Buildings will stay open for administrators, personnel, and “necessary services,” but not for instruction, according to Pedro Martinez, the superintendent of the district, which is predominantly low-income and Black and Latino. Schools will provide lunch from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and COVID-19 testing will go on as planned, but afterschool activities will be canceled, according to district officials. A list of city sites with offered childcare was also supplied by the district.
In response to teacher concerns, the district announced that it has provided 200,000 KN95 masks to teachers, that it will allow schools to reinstate daily health screening questions for students and visitors that were required last academic year, and that it will spell out metrics for closing individual schools. For example, if 50 percent of an elementary school’s classes had more than 50 percent of its children directed to isolate or quarantine, the district announced it would move to remote learning.
The 25,000-member union had hoped to use the same parameters to shutter schools as in a previous agreement that expired at the start of the current school year. For example, if the citywide COVID-19 test positive rate rises for seven days in a row, the district will take a two-week break from in-person learning.
More safety standards are needed, according to union officials, and the COVID-19 spike is generating personnel shortages. The district noted that while just 82 percent of its 21,600 teachers showed up for work on Monday, this was lower than typical, and that lessons were filled by substitute teachers and other personnel.
Student attendance for the week was not yet available, according to district officials.
According to the district, about 100,000 kids and 91 percent of its more than 47,000 employees have been vaccinated.