President Joe Biden on Monday shared his thoughts about schools resuming in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic when asked about the ongoing standoff between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union.
"It's not so much about the idea of teachers aren't going to work. The teachers I know, they want to work," the president said during a briefing with reporters. "They just want to work in a safe environment and...as safe as we can rationally make it. And we can do that..."
On Sunday, a majority of CTU members voted not to return to schools for in-person instruction. As a result, CPS officials announced the planned return date for kindergarten through eighth grade teachers would be pushed back from Monday to Wednesday to allow more time for negotiations between the district and the union.
CTU voted to authorize all rank-and-file educators in the district to shift to remote learning beginning Monday, a release said.
CTU said 86% of its members participated in the vote Sunday, with 71% voting to continue remote learning. Under the current plan in place with CPS, the first day for teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade was set for this week, with students returning to classrooms on Feb. 1.
Speaking at Monday's news conference after he signed an executive order to boost government buying from U.S. manufacturers, Biden stressed the importance of having proper ventilation systems, thorough sanitization practices and adequate testing capacity at schools.
"...We should be able to open every school, kindergarten through eighth grade, if in fact we administer these tests," the president stated. "And it will have the added advantage, I might add, of putting millions of people back to work. All those mothers and fathers that are home taking care of their children rather than going to work, even when they can work."
Following the president's remarks, CTU tweeted, "Thank you, President Biden. Exactly what educators have been saying, and responses from parents have shown since last March."
CPS said last week that remaining out of schools is a "decision to strike" and in violation of their collective bargaining agreement, after CTU's House of Delegates voted to authorize all union members to conduct remote work-only.
The union disagrees with that assertion, saying that its vote was based on "unsafe" working conditions and that it isn't tantamount to a work stoppage, since teachers would still be working remotely.
A limited number of students in pre-K and special needs classes returned to the classroom in recent weeks as both the union and district remain embroiled in the debate over resuming in-person instruction.
CPS officials on Friday announced a plan to vaccinate staff members in the next phase of the city's vaccination plan, as the district prepares to bring thousands of teachers and students back into classrooms.
CPS expects to begin receiving vaccines in mid-February, the district said, and will begin to distribute doses to employees at that time through school-based sites.