The rank-and-file members of the Chicago Teachers Union have voted to temporarily transition to remote learning, a move that prompted Chicago Public Schools officials to cancel classes for Wednesday.
While CTU instructed its members to work remotely Wednesday, CPS has said that it will not accept the switch back to remote learning, and instead canceled all classes, sporting events and extracurricular activities scheduled for Wednesday.
Food service will still be available at schools between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m., and COVID testing and vaccination events will continue as scheduled, according to a CPS press release.
While the union argues that the switch to remote learning would be temporary, and would be undertaken to help keep students and staff safe amid a surge in omicron cases, officials have said that the move is an “illegal work stoppage,” and said that they do not intend to switch the entire district to remote learning.
"Tonight, as educators, parents, neighbors and community members we had to make the tough decision to support a resolution to return to remote learning in our city’s public schools," CTU said in a statement. "This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety."
The union said that it wants its members to be in classrooms, but blamed Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership for putting "the safety and vibrancy of our students and their educators in jeopardy."
In a tweet, the union said that it will call for teachers to return to classrooms under the following conditions:
-The current surge in COVID cases substantially subsides, OR
-The mayor's team at CPS signs an agreement establishing conditions for return that are voted on and approved by the CTU House of Delegates.
The mayor likened the stalemate in negotiations over a new safety agreement to the film “Groundhog Day."
“It feels like Groundhog Day, that we’re here again, at this hour, after everything we’ve gone through in the last two years with CTU leadership,” she said.
The mayor, in a late Tuesday press conference, said that CPS CEO Pedro Martinez asked CTU President Jesse Sharkey to delay the vote so that CPS officials could present new frameworks for a safety plan, and Lightfoot said that the request was rejected.
Prior to the vote, Lightfoot criticized the move as an “illegal work stoppage,” and said that she wanted to focus on working together to reach a safety agreement.
“The worst thing we can do is to shut the entire system down. What we need to be focused on is working together,” she said. “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.”
The CPS statement released late Tuesday night reminded non-CTU employees that they are still expected to report to work Wednesday, and that if they don't they will not be paid. Lightfoot and Martinez both said that teachers who did not report to school buildings on Wednesday would be put on "no-pay status" until they return.
The teachers' union has cited rising numbers of COVID cases among both students and teachers as part of the reason they are seeking a temporary switch to remote learning, while also criticizing CPS for not providing adequate testing and improved masking, along with other mitigations, in the wake of the omicron surge.
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 has argued that the switch to remote learning would only need to be enforced until omicron cases begin to decline, something that public health officials in Chicago say could happen as soon as late January.
Lightfoot ruled out any such temporary measure on Tuesday, saying that her team has determined that the benefits of such a move would outweigh potential downsides.
“Many parents in our school system can’t afford to ‘home school’ and not go to work,” she said. “These are hardworking families, many of them single-parent households, that have to go to work to keep the lights on and to keep themselves in homes.”
Lightfoot has called on CTU to assist the district in encouraging parents and students to get their COVID vaccinations, but no details have been released on plans for clinics or other ways to distribute those treatments.
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.
For now, it is unclear how the district plans to proceed beyond Wednesday, with officials saying that they intended to put forward plans for Thursday and Friday in the coming hours.
“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.