In the latest setback for the return to normalcy in education, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted on Tuesday to shut down in-person learning and return to virtual learning until at least January 18th.
USA Today reports that the city of Chicago responded to the CTU’s decision by cancelling classes altogether for most of the over 330,000 students living in the district. The union issued several demands alongside their vote, including forcing the district to submit negative tests for all students and staff before the teachers would return to work. The CTU said they would not return until either January 18th, or until the overall number of coronavirus cases drops below a certain number.
In a half-hearted statement, CTU said that “this decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety.” Roughly 73 percent of the union’s 25,000 members voted for the shutdown of in-person learning.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D-Ill.) responded by condemning the union, declaring that the vote was an “illegal work action,” and that any teachers who do not show up for work will not be paid.
“What we should not be doing,” Lightfoot said, “is allowing CTU leadership to shut down an entire school system.”
Pedro Martinez, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) characterized the vote as a “walkout,” and also refuted CTU’s claims by stating that schools “rarely saw any instances of any major transmission.” Martinez assured that the school buildings would remain open on Wednesday and continue to provide more essential services such as food and COVID testing.
Dr. Alison Arwady, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health, noted that there has been a surge in coronavirus cases in Chicago over the last few days, which includes a 22 percent increase in hospitalizations compared to last week, and over 2,000 adults and 8,000 students currently stuck in quarantine. Nevertheless, even Dr. Arwady condemned the CTU’s decision, noting that schools should always be “first to open, [and] last to close.”
“I’m disappointed that we’re having this conversation again,” Arwady continued, “because this is one that has been answered.”