The debate between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers’ union took a significant step forward on Tuesday as educators voted to switch to remote learning, and classes will be canceled for a second consecutive day on Thursday as negotiations continue.
After the CTU vote on Tuesday, CPS announced that classes would be canceled Wednesday, and they will remain out for Thursday after consultation with principals in the district.
"We have no choice but to cancel classes," CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said. "We've already sent another notice to families. As I had conversations with our principals and said 'what is the best path forward,' they came back to me and said, 'CEO, we got to continue to be the champions, and to advocate for in-person instruction.'"
The decision comes as school officials and teachers continue to spar over COVID safety issues that have been the center of a heated debate for months.
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“For me, it’s a day of mourning,” Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said earlier Wednesday. “I’m sad for how, as a district, we are responding to parents…because parents are losing in this process.”
Martinez says the district’s immediate goal is to get through Jan. 18, the day the CTU’s work action is scheduled to end.
“We’re figuring out a plan…a plan forward,” he said. “The biggest concern and the questions we are getting is how long will this continue?”
While Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the teachers’ vote to return to remote learning an “illegal work stoppage,” union officials described it as a necessary step to keep teachers and students safe, with the union’s membership feeling unsafe with going back into buildings during a surge in COVID cases.
“Right now, going into schools puts us at risk, puts our students and family at risk of contracting the coronavirus,” union President Jesse Sharkey said. “That’s the simple truth of the matter.”
During a virtual news conference Wednesday, Sharkey suggested that more testing could get his membership back in the classroom more quickly, and pointed to a similar program in Los Angeles schools as a model.
“Provide a test so that people are negative when they come back into a school,” he said. “Then have a meaningful screening program so that we know, that we have some assurance that the people who are in front of us…aren’t positive for coronavirus.”
Both CPS and the CTU have said that they are willing to continue negotiations toward a solution to the issues the union has raised, but it is unclear what the result of those talks will be as parents are left wondering when their children will be allowed to return to classrooms.