By Megha Khemka, Correspondent
The Chicago Teachers Union will vote on Jan. 4 to switch to online learning in response to the current spike in COVID cases throughout the country. If CTU decides on remote learning, school will be canceled for Wednesday.
In a meeting at 4:30 PM today, CTU’s House of Delegates voted not to resume in-person teaching. Following this development, all union members will now vote electronically on the measure from 6-9 PM.
Citing a recent COVID-19 surge due in part to the new Omicron variant, the CTU wants to halt in-person work until January 18, or until the requirements for a district-wide return to remote learning that were laid out in last school year’s agreement are no longer met. According to CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, though, a refusal to teach in person would mean no instruction on Wednesday, while the school district figures out next steps.
In an attempt to address teachers’ concerns, CPS asked the union to delay its vote and has proposed a new agreement that includes criteria for shutting down individual schools based on teacher and student absences, as well as heightened COVID safety measures such as distributing KN95 masks to staff and increasing contact tracing. He emphasized that these measures were intended to assuage anxiety among teachers; he, along with health officials and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, believes in-person learning to be safe for both students and faculty.
Among the CTU’s demands over winter break was a request that students and staff be required to present a negative COVID-19 test before attending school on Monday. However, this was not implemented, and while some Payton students are taking classes online, most have returned to school. Although 150,000 testing kits were distributed to families in December, only about 36,000 were returned. Of those, 70% were invalid and 18% were positive. Martinez, while acknowledging the importance of increased testing, stressed the benefits of a school-by-school approach to COVID mitigation, accounting for vaccination rates and other variables, rather than a district-wide switch to remote learning.
Having attended high school in person for the first time this year, sophomore Jorje Lara shared that although he feels “reverting back to remote learning… makes the most sense in terms of the health and safety of staff and students,” he expects the shift to negatively impact his school experience. One of his biggest concerns was the social impact of schooling from home, as “[getting] to see friends and peers again during the school day” was one of the biggest positives of this school year. Nevertheless, he hopes going online for a few weeks now will prevent a longer-term closure in the future.
Update: Chicago Public Schools has canceled all classes and extracurricular activities for the second day in a row after the Chicago Teachers Union voted on Tuesday in favor of switching to remote work. All school buildings will remain open and offer student meals from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Due to delays in the electronic process, the voting window was extended to 10 p.m. Tuesday night, with the final decision announced at almost 11 p.m. According to the CTU, 73% of its members voted in favor of the remote-only job action. “The educators of this city want to be in their classrooms with their students,” stated the CTU in a press release on Tuesday. “Regrettably, the Mayor and her CPS leadership have put the safety and vibrancy of our students and their educators in jeopardy.”
However, CPS leadership responded that, since the district is not authorized to conduct remote instruction, the decision not to report to schools in person amounts to an illegal work stoppage. They also provided a list of resources for those seeking childcare, including a list of open Safe Haven and Park District sites. Families had originally been told to expect a “new plan to continue student learning” by the end of the day Wednesday; however, continuing negotiations between the district and the CTU resulted in no classes on Thursday.
Links to official statements from both parties, as well as the letter sent to CPS families, are included below.
CPS Statement: https://www.scribd.com/document/551019068/Jan-4-Statment-Cps-2
Letter sent to families: https://twitter.com/ChiPubSchools/status/1478600781406347264/photo/1
CTU Press Release: https://www.ctulocal1.org/posts/dont-lock-educators-out-for-demanding-safe-in-person-learning-in-face-of-largest-surge-of-pandemic/