Chicago Teachers Union votes to defy in-person learning order amid omicron surge | #students | #parents

Chicago public schools canceled classes Wednesday after the city’s teachers union voted overwhelmingly to return to remote learning amid a surge in coronavirus cases, defying the city’s order to return to classrooms.

Close to 90% of the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted in favor of shifting to remote learning, along with more than 70% of its members, the union said in a statement Tuesday.

“This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety,” said the union, which has accused Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot of endangering the safety of teachers and students with lax coronavirus protocols. “Let us be clear. The educators of this city want to be in their classrooms with their students.”

Lightfoot has said remote schooling causes profound learning loss for students and burdens parents who can’t afford to miss work to care for children at home. “Our schools are safe. Our schools are not the source of significant spread,” she said this week on CNBC.

In a letter to families after the vote, Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said that there would be no in-person or remote learning Wednesday and that parents should not send their children to school. He said take-home breakfasts and lunches would be available for those who need them and shared resources for parents who needed child-care options. Martinez also later clarified that students will not be turned away and will be looked after if dropped off, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago’s fight over in-person vs. remote learning comes as many school systems across the country have faced similar struggles during a winter surge in coronavirus infections largely driven by the omicron variant. School systems in Cleveland, Atlanta and Newark have switched to virtual learning. But the vast majority of schools opened Monday or plan to reopen this week.

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Tuesday’s vote by Chicago teachers is the result of a months-long fight between city officials and the teachers union, which has repeatedly expressed concerns about conducting in-person classes while infections spread at schools. Last week, the union proposed requiring negative tests from employees and students as a condition for returning to class.

“We have a right to rigorous layered mitigation that ensures that we’re also not sacrificing our lives for our livelihoods,” union President Jesse Sharkey in a statement.

Chicago’s daily case averages were above 4,000 in the last week of 2021, rendering the winter surge the city’s worst during the pandemic. Chicago’s previous record surge came last winter, when daily averages went above 2,000. Hospitalizations have also been on the rise in recent weeks, according to city figures.

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