Leaders of Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday after the teachers union voted to switch to remote learning due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, the latest development in an escalating battle over pandemic safety protocols in the nation’s third-largest school district.
Chicago has rejected a districtwide return to remote instruction, saying it was disastrous for children’s learning and mental health. But the union argued the district’s safety protocols are lacking and both teachers and students are vulnerable.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s action, approved by 73% of members, called for remote instruction until “cases substantially subside” or union leaders approve an agreement for safety protocols with the district. Union members were instructed to try and log into teaching systems Wednesday, even though the district said there would be no instruction and didn’t distribute devices to students ahead of the union votes, which were announced just before 11 p.m. Tuesday.
“This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety,” the union said in a statement.
However, district officials blamed the union for the late cancellation, saying despite safety measures, including a high teacher vaccination rate, “our teachers are not willing to report to work.”
“We are deeply concerned about this decision but even more concerned about its impact on the health, safety, and well-being of our students and families,” the district said in a statement.
The status of instruction for the rest of the week remained in limbo, while district leaders said a plan to “continue student learning” would come later Wednesday. School officials deemed the union action a “work stoppage” and said those who did not report to schools Wednesday would not be compensated. Last year during a similar debate, the district punished teachers who did not come to schools.
Contentious issues in the roughly 350,000-student district include metrics that would trigger school closures. The district proposed guidelines for individual school closures, saying safety measures like required masks, availability of vaccines and improved ventilation make schools among the safest places for kids to be. But the union has proposed metrics for districtwide closure, citing risks to students and teachers.
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