Chicago school leaders canceled classes for a second straight day after failing to reach an agreement Wednesday with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols in the nation’s third-largest school district.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which voted to revert to online instruction, told teachers to stay home Wednesday during the latest COVID-19 surge while both sides negotiate, prompting district officials to cancel classes two days after students returned from winter break. Chicago Public Schools, like most other districts, has rejected retuning to remote learning, saying it worsened racial inequities and was detrimental to academic performance, mental health and attendance. District officials insist schools can safely remain open with protocols in place.
School districts nationwide have grappled with the same issues, with most opting to stay open while ramping up virus testing, tweaking protocols and other adjustments in response to the shifting pandemic. White House press secretary Jen Psaki, echoing President Joe Biden a day earlier, said Wednesday that the country is better equipped now to make sure schools can safely open “including in Chicago,” while former President Donald Trump called the closures “devastating.”
District and union officials negotiated behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon but failed to produce an agreement. The issues include metrics that would trigger school closures and more COVID-19 testing. For instance, school leaders support remote learning only at the classroom and school level when there are outbreaks, as has been the case this year, versus a district-wide switch to remote learning which the union has supported. “We know that our schools are safe. Yes. Do we have challenges across individual schools? Absolutely. Do we respond? Absolutely,” Schools CEO Pedro Martinez told reporters Wednesday evening.
He said the no-deal situation left “no choice but to leave it”.
Martinez said students may be able to start returning to schools on Friday for services like tutoring or counseling depending on how many staff members show up. Buildings stayed open Wednesday for meal pickup in the largely low-income and Black and Latino school district.
Union President Jesse Sharkey said teachers don’t want to return to in-person instruction until the current surge has subsided. “We’d rather be in our classes teaching, we’d rather have the schools open. What we are saying though is that right now we’re in the middle of a major surge, it is breaking all the records and hospitals are full,” he said during a Wednesday morning news conference.