Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted efforts by the Chicago Teachers Union to approve a switch to remote-learning, saying that such a vote would amount to an “illegal work stoppage” and that the city is confident that children are safer in classrooms thanks to investments made in a variety of mitigations.
During a press conference concerning the city’s safety plans for 2022, Lightfoot was asked about the impending CTU vote, and she dismissed a switch to remote learning as an unnecessary step amid a surge in COVID cases caused by the omicron variant.
“The worst thing we can do is to shut the entire system down,” she said. “What we need to be focused on is working together. What I’d love to see CTU do is not force an illegal work stoppage. What I’d love to see them do is work hand-in-glove with us to get kids and their families vaccinated.”
Lightfoot’s remarks come as CTU teachers are set to conduct a vote on whether to switch to remote learning. CPS officials have said that such a vote would trigger a cancellation of classes on Wednesday, and the mayor said that a switch back to remote learning, even a temporary one, would cause undue hardship both on students and on their parents.
Get Chicago local news, weather forecasts, sports and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Chicago newsletters.
“Dr. Allison Arwady tells me that the schools are safe, and that there is no reason to shut down the entire system,” she said. “If we pause, what do we say to those parents who can’t afford to hire somebody to come watch their kids, or ship their kids off to some other place? What do we say to those students who are struggling?”
Union officials dispute the mayor’s characterization of the vote, telling NBC 5 that the move would not be a walk out or a strike, but would tentatively aim to keep learning remote through mid-January.
During a press conference Tuesday, Arwady said that she is “85-to-90%” confident that the omicron-driven surge could ease by the end of the month, but said that it’s impossible to predict when the peak in cases would be reached.
As of Tuesday, the city is reporting nearly 4,600 new COVID cases per day, according to CDPH data.
Amid that surge, teachers and CPS officials have continued to negotiate over safety protocols and other mitigations, but no agreement has been reached over how to proceed with the school year.
CTU leaders have argued that the current surge is making teachers and students more vulnerable, and that the district has already botched safety protocols, including a holiday testing program and data collection.
“I am so pissed off that we have to continuously fight for the basic necessities,” Stacy Davis Gates, the union’s vice president, said.
The CTU vote is expected to conclude at approximately 9 p.m. If the vote to return to remote learning passes, CPS officials say that classes will be canceled Wednesday, and remote learning would not take place.
Lightfoot says that she is committed to continuing negotiations with the union over mitigations, but that she is convinced that a targeted-approach to school closures and in-person learning changes is the best way to go.
“Throwing up our hands and acting as if we don’t have this body of knowledge that our schools are safe, that we spent $100 million to make them safe, and that we have the vaccine, we don’t need a one-size-fits-all strategy,” she said.