Chicago public schools have canceled classes for the third consecutive day as the city negotiates with the Chicago Teachers Union over appropriate COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming semester.
The teachers union sent out a message to its members earlier this week instructing them to stay home Wednesday. That work action has now persisted through the end of the week, according to district officials who announced that Friday’s classes would likely be canceled throughout the city.
The union has pushed for classes to return to online instruction because of the spread of the latest variant of the coronavirus. District officials have continued to assert that there is no plan to return to online teaching, according to the Associated Press.
The union-driven standoff began two days after students returned to class following winter break. Now, the 350,000-student school district, third-largest in the nation, has frozen again except in “a small number of schools” where some staff have continued to show up despite the union-endorsed work action, according to district officials. Officials have deemed the school freeze an “illegal work stoppage.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat who has previously been supportive of a heavy-handed response to COVID-19, blasted the teachers union on Thursday over the school stoppage, according to Fox News.
“Unfortunately, I think the only way to read it is the union trying to politicize the pandemic, which is really incredibly sad,” Lightfoot said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
When asked what the teachers union got out of pursuing the fight, Lightfoot responded that the union gets to “flex their power.”
“They do it at the expense of our children,” she said. “They do it at the expense of our families. We know that when we were fully remote previously, 100,000 of our kids lost contact and would disengage from the system. We saw in the elementary schools the failure rate during remote learning triple from what it was. We saw the trauma and social emotional harm to students across our system.”
“So this is about politics, it’s not about the pandemic,” she continued. “Fundamentally the absolute wrong thing to do right now is to abandon the science and data that tells us unequivocally that our schools in person are the best place for our students to be. So we’re drawing a line. Enough is enough. I’m tired of the Groundhog Day appearance of everything that goes on with the Chicago Teachers Union leadership. We need partnership, we don’t need conflict right now.”
Union president Jesse Sharkey blamed Lightfoot for the school stoppage, dubbing the Chicago mayor “Lockout Lori” in an email to union members because teachers have been unable to access their remote teaching tools online.
“We have rights to safety and we’ve been at the bargaining table for 20 months to secure those rights,” Sharkey said, according to the AP. “We haven’t shifted the goal posts one bit; in fact, we’ve been saying the same thing for months: Please, work WITH us to set up comprehensive testing, work with us to vaccinate students, and work with us to establish basic guard rails.”