Mayor’s office insists she’s doing ‘everything in her power’ to bring kids back to school – including threatening teachers’ pay
The Chicago Teachers Union has voted to shut down in-person classes, insisting the surge in Covid-19 cases has made schools unsafe, while school-board officials warn the work stoppage amounts to an illegal strike.
While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Pedro Martinez acknowledged on Tuesday that if the union voted for remote learning and opted not to show up, there would be no classes on Wednesday, he insisted school buildings would be open and teachers and students alike were welcome to come to classrooms – there just might not be any classes going on there.
“If they do take a vote to do a walkout tomorrow, I have to cancel classes,” Martinez said earlier Tuesday. “I am not closing the schools. The schools are going to be open. And so, again, all staff will be welcome to come to school because we are going to have a plan for our families. I am not going to let our parents down.”
“A vote to stop reporting to work would cause profound harm to children’s learning and health and be another damaging blow to the well-being of our students and their families,” CPS warned.
CPS officials denounced any potential union vote authorizing remote instruction from Wednesday forward as an “illegal strike.” The union, on the other hand, released a memo to its teachers informing them January 18 would be the next day of in-person classes.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot sided with CPS, declaring the union did not have the power to cancel classes unilaterally. “The [Chicago Teachers Union] doesn’t make decisions about how our CPS system works. The CEO does. He’s the boss,” she told a reporter on Tuesday after she was asked whether the schools would switch to remote learning if teachers stopped coming to school.
Lightfoot tweeted a plea to teachers to “show up to your schools” because “your kids need you,” insisting the administration was following the guidance of its own public-health officials and the Centers for Disease Control. Following the union vote, she threatened to withhold pay from the teachers who did not show up for work.
The union insisted that while its members “understand the frustration that is felt by tonight’s decision,” they needed the mayor and CPS leadership to “at last commit to enforceable safety protections centered on the well-beings of our students, their families and our school communities.” Some 73% of them had voted in favor of remote work, having demanded over the holiday break that the administration adopt universal PCR testing of students and staff alike or switch to remote learning.
Only six Chicago residents under the age of 17 have reportedly died with Covid-19 since the pandemic began, a small fraction of the 6,254 deaths with the virus recorded there as of Tuesday. The general consensus among scientists has been that the omicron variant, while contagious, is less deadly than its predecessors.
Covid-19 cases in Chicago are at their highest rate since the beginning of the pandemic, and the city has imposed strict vaccination mandates keeping adults and children alike out of restaurants and entertainment venues unless they get the shot. Like other city workers, Chicago Board of Education employees and teachers have, since October, been required to be vaccinated or possess a religious or medical exemption in order to work; however, the school system has not yet imposed such a mandate on its student body.