Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union on Monday that would return students to classrooms on Wednesday after a dispute over coronavirus safeguards canceled a week of classes in the country’s third-largest school district.
“No one is more frustrated than I am,” Ms. Lightfoot said after the deal was reached. She added: “I’m glad that we’re hopefully putting this behind us and looking forward. But there does come a point when enough is enough.”
The deal, which city officials said included provisions for additional testing and metrics that would close schools with major virus outbreaks, was approved by the union’s House of Delegates on Monday night and was expected to be voted on later in the week by rank-and-file teachers.
Teachers were expected back in school buildings on Tuesday with students joining them the day after. Although the union leaders were critical of Ms. Lightfoot’s performance, they agreed that the agreement was necessary due to the dire circumstances teachers are in during the pandemic.
“This agreement is the only modicum of safety that is available for anyone that steps foot in the Chicago Public Schools, especially in the places in the city where testing is low and where vaccination rates are low,” said Stacy Davis Gates, the union’s vice president.
School leaders across the United States have scrambled to adjust to the highly infectious Omicron variant, which has pushed the country’s daily case totals to record levels and led to record hospitalizations. Most school districts continue to provide in-person instruction. As the Biden administration suggested, quarantining students or classrooms when there are outbreaks can be difficult. Some large districts such as Milwaukee and Cleveland have moved their classes online.
Chicago’s debate proved bitterly and unpredictable. Students pulled out of classes two days after the winter break, when teachers decided to stop reporting to their classrooms. Instead of teaching online, as the union suggested, the school district cancelled class.
Chicago Public Schools leaders have insisted that virus precautions were in place and that pausing in-person instruction would unfairly burden parents and harm students’ academic and social progress. Union members stated that the schools were unsafe and that more testing was necessary. They also suggested that classes be temporarily moved online.
Like much of the country at this point, Chicago is seeing far more cases per day than any other time during the pandemic. Omicron variants of the virus are believed to cause less severe disease than previous forms. Vaccinated people are unlikely to experience severe consequences. Despite this, coronavirus hospitalizations have risen sharply in Illinois since last winter’s peak.
Members of Ms. Lightfoot’s administration have defended the school system’s efforts to make classrooms safe and have emphasized that children rarely face severe outcomes from Covid-19. However, their efforts to reassure parents has sometimes been unsuccessful. The district created an optional testing plan during winter break. However, most of the 150,000 P.C.R. mail-ins were not returned. The majority of the 150,000 or so mail-in P.C.R. tests were not returned to students; however, some produced invalid results.
Source: NY Times