CHICAGO — Chicago school leaders canceled classes for a third straight day after failing to reach an agreement Thursday with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols.
An official statement by CPS read: “Classes are canceled for all CPS students tomorrow, Friday, January 7. However, a small number of schools may be able to offer in-person activities for students. Please do not plan to send your child to school unless you hear otherwise from your child’s principal.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez say bargaining started around noon Thursday and went into the evening. While both say from their perspective that talks were productive, a deal was not reached, thus keeping CPS students at home for a third consecutive day.
Testing remains one of the union’s most significant concerns as it relates to students’ return to in-person learning. Members have gone on record to say that testing is inadequate amid the omicron surge. As a result, CTU members believe two weeks of remote learning would not only limit exposure amid the wave but help both city school leaders and union heads formulate a better plan moving forward.
Before news broke Thursday night about Chicago schools’ next-day cancellation, union members went door-to-door in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood in an attempt to sign families up for COVID-19 testing.
Jackson Potter, a teacher at Back of the Yards High Schools, said he favors remote learning in the interim.
“That helps us prepare to have more testing, more access to quality masks here,” Potter said. “Minimal requirements for addressing a pandemic.”
CPS leaders say they’re working to ramp up testing and provide better masks. But, despite the pledge, the school remains frustrated, calling the union’s refusal to return to work “an illegal work stoppage.”
Lightfoot said Wednesday night that the city had filed an unfair labor practice charge against CTU.
Martinez said Thursday that 15% of teachers came to work. He said he expected many more to show up to work on Friday before announcing that school leaders would shut down classes.
“The challenge I have right now is that the union continues to discourage them to come in,” Martinez said. “I’ve even heard stories of staff being harassed, being threatened.”
While many parents support virtual learning, several remain in favor of in-person instruction.
Stephanie Fagin, the mother of a third-grade student at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, says she signed a Change.Org petition supporting children’s return to the classroom.
“I don’t think a lot of families in CPS have the same resources to fill the gaps created by remote school,” Fagin said.
The mother adds that she is pleased with the safety measures at Chicago Public Schools and trusts leadership.
“Our school was doing testing once a week and our administration has been amazing at concise and clear communication about when a classroom needs to be closed because of exposure and that did happen,” Fagin said. “So I’m not sure why or where the data is about why that still won’t work with this surge.”