Chicago Schools Close After Teachers' Union Votes for Remote Learning

Kids shut out of classrooms as union clashes with district officials

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January 5, 2022

More than 290,000 kids in Chicago Public Schools were shut out of the classroom Wednesday after the city's teachers' union voted against returning to in-person learning.

At a virtual town hall on Sunday, more than 6,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union said they felt unsafe returning to the classroom. Nearly three-quarters of union members voted Thursday to return to remote learning either until Jan. 18 or whenever cases in the city dip below a threshold the union and the district agreed on last year. The union's vote forced the district to close school on Wednesday while officials figure out a plan "to continue student learning," the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The union says it is unsafe for educators to work in-person due to a surge in COVID cases. District and city health officials say that returning to the classroom is not only safe but also imperative for students' health and well-being.

Chicago teachers bragged on Facebook about potentially being eligible to receive reimbursements for sick days they scheduled for Wednesday, which they no longer need to take because of the closing. Fourth-grade teacher Jessica Witt posted that the district should "run me back my sick days."

"I feel no pain. They can cancel school until June and I'll be fine," Derrick Colon, who identifies himself on Facebook as a Chicago Public Schools dean, replied to a post in the union's private Facebook page. "Been training for this moment all my life."

This is the third time in just over two years that tensions between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers' union have led to school closures.

The union called last week for a two-week return to virtual learning and demanded that all Chicago Public School students return a negative COVID test before doors open for the spring semester. Chicago Public Schools distributed 150,000 tests to students to take and return by December 28—a deadline that was pushed back to January 2 after test kits began piling up at FedEx drop boxes.

Just 21 percent of students in Chicago Public Schools met or surpassed English standards in 2021—7 percent fewer than in 2019. And only 16 percent of students met or surpassed math standards, compared with 24 percent in the year prior to lockdowns, the Sun-Times reported.

Update 2:58 p.m.: This piece has been updated to reflect the fact that Derrick Colon identifies himself as a Chicago Public Schools dean.