Chicago Teachers Prepare To Strike Over Return to Classroom

Union claims rise in COVID cases makes classroom instruction unsafe

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January 3, 2022

Chicago teachers are preparing to strike over what they say are unsafe working conditions caused by a spike in coronavirus cases.

The Chicago Teachers Union has scheduled a Tuesday vote to determine whether its 25,000 members will refuse to return to the classroom, WBEZ reported. On Sunday, more than 6,000 union members at a virtual town hall said they would not feel safe resuming classroom instruction following winter break. Chicago schools were set to reopen Monday, though some schools have already moved to remote learning without district approval.

Last week, the union called for two weeks of remote learning unless all students and district staff provided a negative COVID-19 test before returning to school. The district distributed 150,000 at-home tests for students to take over the break and mail in by Dec. 28. This weekend, the district pushed the mail-in deadline to Jan. 2, following reports that tests were piling up in FedEx drop boxes.

The Chicago Teachers Union has repeatedly bucked efforts to resume in-person learning. Last January, the union thwarted Chicago Public Schools' plan to reopen schools, even though studies found viral spread in school settings to be "extremely rare." Many teachers who followed the union’s decision to switch to virtual learning were declared absent without official leave and didn’t receive pay.

Last year, the union claimed that the "push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny." But studies have shown that black and Latino students have been disproportionately harmed by school closures.

Chicago Public Schools maintains the schools are safe for in-person learning and the strike would put students at "increased health risk."

"CPS is aware of the [union's] calls for possible member actions, including refusal to report to work which CPS is deeply concerned could place the health and safety of members of our community, particularly our students, at increased risk," the school system said in a statement. "Districtwide, unwarranted and preemptive mass school closures could actually fuel community spread. Taken together with other profound harms—physical, mental, academic, and social and emotional—associated with remote-only learning, CPS stands firmly on its decision to protect and promote child health by keeping schools safe and open."

Math and English scores dropped across Chicago Public Schools during the pandemic, according to results reported in December. Only 21 percent of students met or surpassed English standards in 2021, down from 28 percent in 2019. Just 16 percent of students met or surpassed math standards, compared to 24 percent in the year before the pandemic, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.