Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears to have reached the end of her patience with the Chicago Teachers Union, which pushed negotiations on whether Chicago teachers would return to in-person instruction into another day, effectively delaying the start of classes until next week.
In a fiery speech Thursday morning, broadcast live on most local news networks, Lightfoot demanded that teachers reach a deal with the Chicago Public Schools.
“Enough is enough,” Lightfoot demanded, citing “failing grades, depression, isolation” among students, whom she says “cannot afford to wait any longer.”
“We are ready to welcome our students back,” Lightfoot said. “Frankly, they have been ready for some time.”
“We’ve extended ourselves beyond measure,” she continued, citing a $100 million investment in creating safe classrooms. “We need our kids back in school. We need our parents to have that option. It should not be that CPS parents are, of all the schools in our city, the only ones that don’t have the option for in-person learning. It cannot be that a public school denies parents that right.”
“And let me emphasize again, remote learning works for some, it absolutely doesn’t work for everyone – not by a long shot,” she added, getting emotional.
Two of the city’s leading officials, Janice K. Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner, also weighed in, per Reason Magazine. “Jackson said that she didn’t think any company or employer in the private sector would tolerate the sort of behavior teachers are engaged in, while Arwady pointed out that all available science supports the safe reopening of schools.”
CTU has resisted nearly every effort to open schools to in-person learning and is now demanding that all teachers be vaccinated before children are allowed to return to classrooms and, according to a document outlining the union’s stipulations, that teachers who live with individuals “vulnerable” to the coronavirus be allowed to work from home indefinitely.
“All employees with medical risks, who are primary caregivers for family members with medical risks, or who have household members who have medical risks” should be allowed to teach virtually, ostensibly until the pandemic is at an end — a goal that may never be reached.
“We cannot return to in-person instruction until we have made more progress with the district on CDC-based health metrics, allowing educators with medically vulnerable family members to continue to teach remotely, and addressing real equity needs for the vast majority of our students — particularly Black and Latinx students who continue to learn remotely,” CTU said Thursday in an open letter to interested parties.
It’s not clear what the “equity needs” CTU is referring to are, but the union has suggested that community organizations must receive grants and that police officers, who are hired to provide safety and protection in select buildings, must be removed from schools before students can safely return — two issues that have little to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lightfoot said Thursday that CPS has already invested millions in protecting schools, and so far, those investments have proven to be effective at protecting both teachers and students.
“Let me remind you of the over $100 million dollars in mitigations that CPS has invested in our schools to make them safe. They have included: ventilation, testing, health screenings, face coverings, enhanced cleaning, and other in-school safety measures,” she said.
“CPS had three weeks of successful implementation of these mitigation plans in our schools, that was until the CTU blew up and created chaos that we are now enduring,” Lightfoot concluded.
Talks on reopening schools are set to resume Thursday. The start of in-classroom learning, which was scheduled to begin for most K-8 students on Monday, has now been pushed back to next Monday.