Teachers plotting to shut down in-person classes – schools unsafe as Covid cases rise

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The Chicago Teachers Union is plotting to halt in-person teaching as cases of Covid in the city are at their highest rate since the beginning of the pandemic. While the union has voted to shut down the classes, school-board officials have warned the work stoppage amounts to an illegal strike.

Members of the union were voting on Tuesday evening for the move after district and union officials did not reach an agreement on terms for operating schools amid the rise in cases.

While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Pedro Martinez said the district would agree to additional COVID safety measures, including school-level data determining when entire campuses close, they did not agree to at least three key components of the union’s demands.

The Chicago Teachers Union were calling for negative PCR tests for all staff, students and volunteers as well as 300 school-based testing sites. They have also requested a citywide metric to pause in-person learning across all campuses and telework accommodations for staff with medical risks.

A letter to families sent out the same evening, said the district would cancel classes on Wednesday for students – if teachers voted to not report to work the next day.

Pedro Martinez insisted school buildings would remain open and that teachers and students are still welcome to go to classrooms even if lessons were cancelled.

On Tuesday, he said: “If they do take a vote to do a walkout tomorrow, I have to cancel classes.

“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.”

CPS also warned any closures would have a knock-on effect on students learning, and also impact families.

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They said: “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.”

Officials from CPS officials referred to any potential union vote that authorised remote teaching from Wednesday this week as an “illegal strike”.

The union released a memo to its teachers informing them January 18 would be the next day of in-person classes.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed whether the schools would switch to remote learning if teachers stopped coming to school, and showed she sided with CPS.

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According to CBS, she told a reporter on Tuesday: “The [Chicago Teachers Union] doesn’t make decisions about how our CPS system works.

“The CEO does. He’s the boss.”

She also tweeted about the issue, writing: “In a time of crisis related to this pandemic, the worst possible thing we can do is abandon the science and data.

“If you care about our students and families as we do, we will not relent. We are standing firm and fighting to get our kids back to in-person learning.”

She insisted the administration was following the guidance of its own public-health officials and the Centers for Disease Control.

She also added that they would work alongside CTU to find a solution, writing: “We are willing to work with CTU as we have been for the last six months. My challenge to them is come to the bargaining table every day for eight, 10, 12 hours, whatever it takes every single day – because that’s what is required.”

However, the teachers’ 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 centred on the well-being of our students, their families and our school communities.”

73 percent of their members voted in favour of remote learning, after having demanded over the Christmas period the administration adopt universal PCR testing of students and staff alike or make the switch to at-home learning.

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