Chicago teachers overwhelmingly broke with union leadership and voted to return students to the classroom for in-person learning beginning Thursday.
More than two-thirds of participating Chicago Teachers Union members voted in favor of the reopening plan, which calls for Chicago Public Schools to prioritize vaccinating teachers and allows prekindergarten and special needs students to resume face-to-face learning Feb. 11. Despite support from a majority of teachers, union leadership remains unsatisfied with the plan.
"We did not get what we wanted or what we deserved," union president Jesse Sharkey said in a statement Wednesday. "We got what we were able to take."
Union delegates on Monday passed a vote of no confidence in Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot (D.) and called a rank-and-file vote on the reopening agreement they struck with Chicago Public Schools and city leaders. Twenty-thousand of the union's 25,000 members voted, with "yes" votes counting for roughly 55 percent of total union members, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said in a joint statement that the democratic decision speaks to the "strength and fairness" of the plan.
"This vote reaffirms the strength and fairness of our plan, which provides families and employees certainty about returning to schools and guarantees the best possible health and safety protocols," they said. "Our schools are fully prepared to safely welcome back students."
In accordance with prior union demands, the district has so far spent more than $100 million on personal protective equipment and other safety measures in order to reopen schools.
The Chicago Teachers Union has twice obstructed the district's plan to reopen schools this year, directing teachers to continue teaching at home when district schools planned to reopen. Many teachers who followed union instructions were declared absent without official leave. They subsequently received pay deductions and were locked out of the district's online classrooms and accounts.
According to the deal, kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers will return to the classroom Feb. 22, with students returning March 1. Middle school teachers will return March 1, with students the following week. No teachers will be required to return to the classroom for in-person learning before they have access to the vaccine.
Teachers' unions across the country have pressured districts to continue remote learning despite evidence that in-school coronavirus transmission is "extremely rare," and that remote learning has disproportionately hurt minority students' test scores. And while unions demand that their teachers have the coronavirus vaccine before returning to the classroom, CDC director Rochelle Walensky last week said that vaccinating teachers "is not a prerequisite" for safely returning to the classroom.
The White House this week walked back its promise to reopen schools, now saying that the goal is to have "some" in-person learning "at least one day a week" within the first 100 days of President Joe Biden's time in office.