Chicago Teachers Union Begins Strike Over In-Person Learning

Student and Parents Hardest Hit
Confused Teacher During Online Lesson
Katerina Holmes, Pexels

As many schools across the country resume in-person learning after the holiday break, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) finds itself in turmoil.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to refuse anything but a return to remote learning. CTU vice president Stacey Davis Gates told CNN that they will not return to work unless the city meets union demands for more testing, on-site vaccination clinics, and ventilation. Thus far, both Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez have remained committed to in-person learning.

Martinez has said previously that if the union goes on strike, classes will be canceled, but families will still be able to make use of CPS buildings.

“I will have to cancel classes tomorrow,” Martinez lamented. “It doesn’t mean that the schools will be closed. The schools will be open, but I will have to cancel classes tomorrow because I can’t… I have to be responsible in knowing who’s going to be showing up to the buildings. And then, we will have a plan specifically for parents that will come out tomorrow in a very timely fashion about what the path forward is.”

This is not the first time CTU has stalled the resumption of in-person learning. In December 2020, the union published a laundry list of demands that the city had to meet before the union would agree to return to in-person work. These included strict testing protocols, enforceable mask mandates, cleaning, health screening, ventilation, equitable vaccine distribution, and automatic closures if the citywide test positivity rate exceeded 3%. At the time, Chicago’s test positivity rate exceeded 13%.

Experts around the world have expressed deep concern about the lingering effects of past school closures as well as the possible effects of any future closures. Even the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has warned that the negative effects of school closures include (but are not limited to) interrupted learning, an increase in dropout rates, and the cessation of essential programs that keep poor kids healthy.

In addition, studies from around the world — including Japan, the United Kingdom, and a global meta-analysis — have found that not only do school closures not diminish the spread of COVID-19, they may increase it, as COVID-19 spreads more efficiently in households than it does in the workplace.

Nevertheless, the CTU is holding firm. After all, more than 80% of CTU members are unwilling to work in CPS schools in-person at this time. Hopefully, at the end of all this, the consequences will not be foisted upon Chicago’s children.

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.

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