On Thursday, a teacher who is on the executive board of the Chicago Teachers Union, for whom she serves as an area vice president, reportedly urged special education teachers to refuse to return to work the week after New Years’ Day because it would be unsafe. A few hours prior to that, the teacher, Sarah Chambers, posted a photo on Instagram of a pool in Puerto Rico captioned, “Spending the last day of 2020 by the poolside.”
“We have the whole pool to ourselves,” Chamber’s caption continued. “Then, we are going to old San Juan to get some yummy seafood mofongo. We have an entire Airbnb house to ourselves. I’m here with my friend who also had covid.”
According to WGN, Chambers is “facing criticism for vacationing in the Caribbean while at the same time claiming it’s unsafe for teachers to return to the classroom.” The outlet also notes that Chambers’ post “mentions she previously had COVID, got a negative test result and consulted her doctor before traveling.”
In mid-December the Chicago Board of Education decided to resume some in-school classes in January, but the Chicago Teachers Union was vehemently opposed to the idea. CTU President Jesse Sharkey stated, “This is the most difficult time. Transmission is highest. It’s dark and cold. People are indoors and the holidays are coming, so there’s going to be a lot of transmission.”
“The union pointed to recent surveys showing two-thirds of Chicago Public Schools parents refusing to send their kids back,” WGN reported before the holiday break. “The union is arguing that it’s much safer to offer a beefed-up remote learning plan until the vaccine can do its work to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.”
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson countered by saying that parents are calling for a return to the classroom, asserting, “We are serving a large swath of our families who believe this is the best choice for their students, and we believe we have a moral obligation to do so.”
“Chicago’s public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, said Wednesday that teacher vaccinations could potentially begin in March or late February at the earliest,” The Chicago Tribune reported on Thursday. “That’s after the scheduled resumption of in-person classes in CPS, which is Jan. 11 for prekindergarten and some special education students and Feb. 1 for most kindergarten through eighth graders, unless they opt for continued remote learning. The first group of teachers is expected to report to schools Monday.”
Arwady pointed out data from the Archdiocese of Chicago showing the infection rate among students was half the rate of students out of school while teachers’ infection rate was akin to “adults in the community.” The Archdiocese of Chicago supervises roughly 200 Chicago-area schools that have been mostly open for months.
Arwady added that the decision to bring teachers back before they are vaccinated “doesn’t have anything to do with vaccination. It has to do with the fact that we have seen, not just here in Chicago but around the country and around the world, that … we don’t see schools driving community spread. We don’t see them as significant sources of infection.”
CTU has warned that teachers may strike if the school district reopens school buildings.
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