The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize all union members to conduct remote work only beginning Jan. 25, pushing back against Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools’ plans to continue the expansion of in-person learning in the city's schools.
According to a CTU press release, more than 80% of the House of Delegates’ 600 committee members voted to pass a resolution to authorize remote work-only plans beginning Jan. 25.
“This is about a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans, and an overwhelming majority of our delegates are resolved to putting safety first and continuing to teach remotely,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “In the absence of an actual commitment on safety from CPS leadership, the best assurance we have for the safety of our students and school staff right now is to continue remote learning.”
According to the press release, rank-and-file members of the union have until Saturday evening to vote on the resolution.
If the resolution passes, it would authorize teachers to seek to exclusively work remotely beginning Monday. That action would require only a simple majority vote of the union’s membership, rather than the 75% that would be required for a full work stoppage, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
A limited number of students in pre-K and special needs classes had returned to school recently. Some teachers had refused to return to the classroom for in-person learning, setting the stage for a showdown between CTU and CPS over the matter.
Students in kindergarten through eighth grade were set to return to the classroom on Feb. 1.
“In each of the more than 60 sessions that we have had with CTU leadership concerning safely re-opening our schools, the district has come to the table in good faith, and we remain committed to reaching a mutually-acceptable agreement,” a CPS spokesperson said. “We have agreed to the CTU’s safety demands every step of this process, and we are ready to come to a resolution that provides our families the smooth transition to in-person learning they deserve.”
CPS officials criticized the CTU vote, saying that the leadership of the union wants to “close schools that are already safely open.”
“CTU leadership wants to close schools that are already safely open to students, and to cancel in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who are relying on their dedicated educators to provide in-person learning in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson said. “Stripping tens of thousands of students of the opportunity for safe, in-person learning is not an option or a viable solution for families who have been planning to return since December.”
Thousands of elementary and middle school staff and teachers were expected to return to classrooms next week, with an estimated 71,000 students scheduled to join them on Feb. 1.
CTU leaders say that they are concerned about the coronavirus mitigation plans that schools have implemented. In a press release, the union says that the virus has been reported in more than 50 schools since the resumption of pre-K and special education classes in early January.
In its decision to authorize the vote on the resolution, the CTU cited growing opposition to a full resumption of in-person learning, including a letter that has been signed by 42-of-50 Chicago aldermen ahead of the projected Jan. 25 date.