Chicago public school students will miss out on a third day of instruction on Friday after the district again canceled school as negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union over Covid-19 safety protocols dragged on.
Schools in the district closed on Wednesday and Thursday after the Chicago Teachers Union voted Tuesday to strike against in-person schooling and conduct remote instruction until extra Covid-19 safety measures are in place, including a requirement that all students present a negative Covid test before returning to in-person learning.
Seventy-three percent of the Chicago Teacher Union’s 22,000 members voted to take a “remote work action” beginning Wednesday. The suspension of in-person teaching could continue until January 18 or until the virus-infection rate in the district hits below the threshold set last year.
The union instructed teachers to stay home while it conducted negotiations with district officials beginning on Wednesday. The district responded by canceling classes. CTU claimed on Wednesday morning that Mayor Lori Lightfoot locked instructors out of remote-learning platforms.
In a message to parents on Thursday, district officials said classes would be canceled on Friday but “in-person learning and activities may be available at a small number of schools” based on how many staff members show up, according to the Associated Press.
Roughly 10 percent of the district’s 21,620 teachers showed up for work on Wednesday. Nearly 13 percent went to work on Thursday.
“Enough is enough,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a Thursday morning interview on MSNBC. “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.”
Students in the district have been affected by conflicts between the district and the union for years; the teachers union last walked off the job in 2012 and 2019 when talks with the city broke down, according to the Associated Press. The outlet notes that there was also a one-day work stoppage in 2016 over claimed unfair labor practices.
The district filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board earlier this week, arguing that the union’s actions are an illegal work stoppage. District leaders requested a cease-and-desist order and a ban on future illegal strikes.
Meanwhile, the union also filed a complaint. The CTU argues that members have a right to refuse “hazardous work assignments” and accused the district of causing an illegal lockout by canceling classes and prohibiting teachers from accessing remote-teaching platforms.
Despite the union’s concerns, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has reassured schools that the virus poses minimal risk to children and that school closures are unreasonable, especially as the district undertakes plans to expand its Covid-testing program.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said schools can remain open safely during the latest surge of Covid-19 cases, saying children need not endure the mental-health impact of not being in school.
“We know they can be open safely, and we’re here to help make that happen, and he agrees with medical, scientific, and education experts that because of the historic work we’ve done, we are more than equipped to ensure schools are open, and we’re going to keep our children and educators who selflessly serve their community safe but ensure that children are not enduring the mental-health impact of not being in school,” Psaki said at a press briefing on Wednesday.