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Chicago Teachers Union Claims Push To Open Schools Is Racist And Sexist, Petitions To Stop Plan
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31: Braving snow and cold temperatures, thousands marched through the streets near City Hall during the 11th day of an ongoing teachers strike on October 31, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Union leadership has announced a tentative agreement on a new contract with Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but is refusing to return to work until paid teaching days lost during the strike are added to the year's school calendar. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)
Scott Heins/Getty Images

In a now-deleted tweet, the Chicago Teachers Union claimed a city push to reopen schools to certain populations of students was the product of “sexism, racism, and misogyny,” and not of a determination that students and teachers could safely return to classrooms.

Parents of some Chicago Public School students — largely prekindergarten students, as well as “moderate” and “severe” special needs students — could opt to have their children return to in-class instruction as early as January 1st, according to the city’s plan, unveiled in November. All Chicago Public School students will have the option of returning to full-time in-classroom instruction on February 1st.

Parents were asked to indicate their preference — remote or in-classroom learning — by Monday. The city says the plan will only go forward if the city’s infection-doubling rate declines, otherwise classrooms will remain closed indefinitely.

Chicago’s teacher’s union, though, has objected to the idea of returning to any in-classroom instruction since a debate about the matter began over the summer, and CTU’s president has been adamantly opposed to allowing any teachers or students into school buildings, leaving the city scrambling to help thousands of low-income students who have little access to remote learning tools and whose parents may struggle to find child care and help with remote learning while they work.

Knowing that the deadline for parents was fast approaching, CTU took a hardline approach to the reopening plan, even going so far as to call the city racist, sexist, and misogynistic for even considering reopening schools.

“The push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny,” CTU tweeted Sunday.

“The union provided no additional comment or clarifying statement,” Reason Magazine’s Robby Soave noted. “There was no acknowledgment that many people who argue schools should reopen are doing so in good faith. A spokesperson for the union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

On Monday, CTU filed an emergency motion to halt the plan, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The Chicago Teachers Union is making its second legal attempt in as many months to put Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plans on hold, accusing the district of illegally refusing to negotiate health and safety conditions before ordering teachers back into classrooms,” the Sun-Times reported Monday. CTU presented its arguments to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, “seeking an injunction that would force the district to negotiate in good faith and reach agreements with the union on several issues before schools reopen, which the union says CPS has not done.”

CTU’s President, Jesse Sharkey, claims CPS has not committed to opening schools “safely,” though Sharkey did not give details on where CTU and CPS diverge on the issue.

“CPS has stonewalled us for months as we’ve been trying to bargain enforceable safety standards for our district-run schools,” Sharkey said in a statement. “We want our schools open as well, but we want it done safely, and not on the backs of the majority Black and Latinx students we serve.”

Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Sharkey seemed to indicate that minority students, many of whom belong to populations adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, would be most likely to return to in-classroom instruction, leaving them and their families vulnerable to infection.

“To be clear, CTU is not advocating schools close. CTU is saying … if we’re going to do school, any plan has to have three elements to it: safety, there has to be an element of equity and there has to be an element of trust,” Sharkey said. Other members of the union added that there were “a litany of problems with the plan, from a lack of basic sanitary supplies before the pandemic to the logistics of teaching in dual methods for students in person and those who opt to remain at home.”

As Reason points out, however, minority students appear to be the most deeply affected by school closures.

“Pandemic-related closures have disproportionately affected inner-city families that rely on public education. Young kids of color are some of the hardest hit,” Reason notes, pointing to a Pro Publica study showing that black and Hispanic students are being left behind by the current system of remote education at a faster rate than their white counterparts.

Reason also notes that safety concerns may be overblown. Both NPR and The New York Times report that the risk of reopening schools is “exaggerated,” and school closures may ultimately be more harmful to children than returning to classrooms in the midst of a pandemic that largely affects older populations. The NYT adds that schoolchildren are also unlikely to fuel spikes in infection rates, even among adults they associate with.

Chicago Public Schools is expected to move forward with plans to return students to classrooms in early 2021. CTU says it expects its petition to enjoin CPS from reopening schools to be heard later this month.

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