Chicago battle with teachers’ union looms in week two

CHICAGO (AP) – Standoff between Chicago principals and teachers’ union over COVID-19 safety protocols spans a second week as rhetoric between the two sides has grown meaner, schools have started notifying families of more class cancellations

CHICAGO (AP) – Standoff between Chicago principals and teachers’ union over COVID-19 safety protocols spanned second week as rhetoric between the two sides grew meaner , schools began to notify families of more class cancellations, and family frustrations increased.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the union and the nation’s third largest school district were “on the sidelines on a number of key features” that teachers want before they return to class, including no more tests and triggers to close a school for in-person instruction due to an outbreak. He also accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of refusing to compromise on top teachers’ priorities.

“The mayor is relentless, but she is relentlessly stupid, she is relentlessly stubborn,” Sharkey said, playing on a reference made by the former attorney-mayor to the refusal to “give in” in the negotiations. “She relentlessly refuses to look for accommodation and we are trying to find a way to get people back to school.”

Lightfoot accused teachers of “abandoning” students by refusing to teach in person. She also hit back at the union president.

“If I had a dollar for every time a privileged, obsessed white man called me stupid, I would be a bazillionaire,” Lightfoot, who is black, told WLS-TV.

In the evening, she released a statement with the schools CEO Pedro Martinez, saying Monday’s negotiations had been productive, but had not offered any class status announcements on Tuesday. Some managers canceled as a precaution and warned of further closings the rest of the week.

Chicago shares concerns about the pandemic with other districts across the country, with more use of distance learning as infections soar and staff are sidelined. But the situation in the union-friendly city of Chicago escalated amid a labor dispute well known to mostly low-income black and Latino families that saw disruption in a similar fight. on safety protocol last year, a 2019 strike and a day’s work. shutdown in 2016.

The union wants the opportunity to return to distance education in the district of about 350,000 students, and most members have refused to teach in person until there is an agreement or the last peak of COVID-19 is subsiding. But Chicago leaders reject district-wide distance learning, saying it’s detrimental to students and schools are safe. Instead, Chicago chose to cancel classes just two days after the students returned from winter vacation.

Parents and advocacy groups stepped up their calls on Monday for faster action in the conflict where both sides have already filed complaints with a state labor council.

A group of parents on the city’s West Side – near the intersection of predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods – demanded that students immediately return to class.

Cheri Warner, the mother of 15-year-old twins, said the sudden loss of in-person learning had taken its toll on her family.

One of her daughters suffers from depression and anxiety, and winter is always difficult. Losing touch with friends and teachers adds to that burden, Warner said.

The girls “missed their entire eighth grade and I felt like they weren’t really prepared for high school,” Warner said. “They’re all trying to find a way to catch up and it’s a really stressful situation.”

Other parents said the district needs to do more

Angela Spencer, organizer of the Kenwood Oakland community organization and nurse, said she was concerned about the safety of her two children in schools. Spencer, who said she worked as a nurse, said her children’s schools were not sufficiently cleaned before the pandemic and that she had “no faith” in the district protocols now.

At the same time, seven families, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures, while more than 5,000 others signed a petition calling for a return to trial in anybody.

District officials, who call the union action an “illegal shutdown,” have kept buildings open for collecting student meals and said adequately staffed schools can open their doors to students. Some teachers introduced themselves; district officials estimated that about 15% of teachers did so on Friday.

On Monday, it emerged that at least one school, Mount Greenwood Elementary, was able to open. Parents at the largely white school in the southwest of the city expressed their relief.

City officials claim schools are safe with protocols in place. School leaders touted a $ 100 million safety plan, including air purifiers in every classroom. About 91% of staff are vaccinated and masks are mandatory indoors.

President Joe Biden, who has been pushing for schools to remain open, has kept in touch with Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr Allison Arwady told a city council committee the data still suggests schools are not significant sources of transmission, calling it a “question and answer when it comes to public health across this country “.

“I think people get the feeling that as soon as a person is in school with COVID, the whole class gets COVID or the whole school gets COVID,” Arwady said. “It’s just not what we’re seeing.”

Since the start of the school year, some classes have temporarily switched to distance learning in the event of infection. But in rejecting a large-scale return to distance learning, city health officials argue that most students quarantined due to possible classroom exposure do not get COVID-19. The district is piloting a “test-to-stay” program to reduce isolation times.

Union officials argued that security measures were inadequate amid record-breaking COVID-19 cases and that the district had botched testing and an infection tracking database.


This story has been corrected to show that the mother of 15-year-old twins is named Cheri Warner, not Cherie.


Associated Press photojournalist Charles Rex Arbogast and Indianapolis writer Rick Callahan contributed to this report. Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter:

Sophia Tareen and Kathleen Foody, The Associated Press

Comments are closed.