Classes for Chicago students are in limbo as teachers, mayor wrangle over omicron

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called the teachers’ refusal to work in-person amid the recent COVID-19 surge an “illegal walkout.”

Youngrae Kim/AP


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Youngrae Kim/AP


Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called the teachers’ refusal to work in-person amid the recent COVID-19 surge an “illegal walkout.”

Youngrae Kim/AP

A dispute between the Chicago public school system and its teacher’s union drags on, with the two sides continuing to negotiate for an end to a work stoppage by the city’s educators.

Teachers began refusing to show up for their jobs in-person on Wednesday amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in the city, prompting the cancellation of classes for roughly 300,000 students in the nation’s third largest school district.

By Sunday morning, neither side had announced an end to the dispute, suggesting the stalemate could enter a second week.

Classes were already cancelled for a majority of students on Monday, the Chicago Sun Times reported.

The increasingly contentious row centers on whether it’s safe for students, teachers and staff to return to schools as the highly contagious omicron variant drives record infections across the nation.

The Chicago Teachers Union has called for a series of additional safety measures to prevent in-school transmission of COVID, such as a weekly testing program. So far, the city has refused to agree to all of the union’s demands, and it rejected teachers’ calls for remote schooling last week, instead cancelling classes outright.

“[Y]ou’re not listening,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the union in a tweet on Saturday.

“The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible,” she said. “That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”

A day earlier, Lightfoot said she and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez thought bargaining with the teachers’ union was “productive,” but had to conclude over the weekend.

In addition to testing, the union said in a wide-ranging proposal on Saturday that it would return to classrooms on Jan. 18 if the district provided KN95 masks to staff and students, switched back to remote learning if the city’s COVID positivity rate hit a certain threshold and agreed to a series of other proposals.

“Our union is in a position of strength, and as we know, the mayor insists she won’t budge — right up until she does,” the union said in a statement. “Right now, she’s talking tough but with little leverage, particularly when so many see what we’re offering as a reasonable package of compromises to secure in-person schooling *and* more safety for students, families, educators, and communities.”

The district, which has called the union’s action an “illegal strike,” announced on Saturday that it was rejecting parts of the latest proposal. It said students and teachers should return to classrooms as soon as possible and that it would only implement a testing program with explicit parental consent for each child.

“We haven’t sat idly by and let COVID race through our schools,” Lightfoot said in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, defending the district’s response to the pandemic. “When there’s been a necessity to shut down a classroom or shut down a school to go to remote learning, we’ve done that.”

The district rejected other parts of the proposal as well, but agreed to some union demands, such as providing KN95 masks and offering monetary incentives to substitute teachers.



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