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.