On Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, public school officials in Chicago canceled classes after a dispute with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Members CTU threatened to stay home because of the sudden COVID-19 surge and the new Omicron variant. As cases continued to rise to city record levels, the teachers believed that the conditions in classrooms were unsafe for the students and themselves.
After a vote by the Chicago Teachers Union on Tuesday, Jan. 4, about 73% of members voted to pause in-person learning. This vote did not mean that school would be canceled, but it called for online learning. The CTU wanted students to begin testing more regularly, along with a two-week pause of in-person learning until classroom conditions are determined safe. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement to The New York Times, “Nobody signs up for being a homeschooler at the last minute.” Mayor Lightfoot refused along with other city officials to return to remote learning.
Chicago leaders rejected districtwide online learning because they believed that the school environment is safe for everyone. Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez claimed that they did not have any choice but to cancel classes and called CTU’s vote to return to remote learning an “illegal work stoppage.” The Chicago Public Officials blamed the teachers for the cancelation of classes.
Parents of Chicago families started to even take these problems into their own hands. Several district families filed a lawsuit in Cook County about the sudden school closure. Many more petitioned for a return to stop the shutdown and go back to in-person learning.
The Chicago Teachers Union finally reached an agreement with the Chicago Public officials after the five day strike. Most Chicago teachers and students headed back to school Wednesday Jan. 12. The CTU Chief of Staff, Jen Johnson, said, “this agreement moves toward what they have been asking for a long time even if it doesn’t get all the way that we think we should have.”
The agreement included increase coronavirus testing and KN95 masks. The district offered a free testing program, and 53,000 students had signed up as of last Thursday. “We can never forget the impact on the lives of our children and their families. They must always be front and center,” Mayor Lightfoot said.
This conflict between in-person and remote learning is not exclusive to Chicago Public Schools. Especially with the increasing rate of COVID-19 cases sweeping across the United States, many schools have to make this hard decision.