Chicago Public Schools will close Wednesday as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) votes on Tuesday to return to remote learning amid a surge in coronavirus cases, according to local reports.
The CTU held a vote Tuesday afternoon – a day after students returned to school Monday following winter break – asking members whether they want to return to in-person learning or return to remote learning unless an agreement is reached with CPS. The results are expected to be announced later this evening.
“The amount of noise that’s out there right now, the amount of misinformation, we have so many people that are afraid, from parents to staff, because of the misinformation,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Martinez said the city would close public schools Wednesday with no remote learning option if the CTU does not meet him halfway on their demands, the Sun-Times reported. The union’s demands include a two-week return to in-person learning if COVID-19 tests are not provided to all 290,000 non-charter school students.
“We want to be in our buildings educating our students – but we have a right to rigorous layered mitigation that ensures that we’re also not sacrificing our lives for our livelihoods,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a Dec. 30 statement. “CPS has the funds – over 2 billion by their own count – to be able to do what’s necessary starting Monday morning to keep people safe. If those mitigations aren’t in place by Monday to protect our educators, students and families, we predict chaos.”
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The union’s 600-member delegation will vote on the measure Tuesday. If it is approved, 25,000 rank-and-file members will also vote on the measure Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The CTU said Tuesday that it was reviewing Martinez’s proposal, but later tweeted that the CEO is “just as bad as his boss,” likely in reference to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whom the school district has criticized for her stance on keeping schools open.
“As much as the new CPS CEO likes to get in front of cameras and play the ‘Why can’t we all just get along/I feel your anxiety and I’m just trying to help,’ he’s just as bad as his boss. And the lies are just the same,” the CTU tweeted.
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The union also said it was “meeting with the mayor’s bargaining team” on Tuesday afternoon.
“This counterproposal was shared with us eight minutes prior to this press conference. Before today, there had been silence from CPS bargaining since Dec. 30,” the union wrote.
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said every Chicago public school building will have access to tests during a Tuesday press conference, WTTV reporter Heather Cherrone reported. Arwady also noted that no children have died of COVID-19 since October, even as omicron cases surge in the city, which recorded a current daily average of nearly 4,600 positive cases as of Tuesday, representing about 169.7 cases per 100,000 residents.
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Martinez told WTTV that 91% of CPS staff is fully vaccinated.
The vote also comes as thousands of coronavirus tests taken by children within the CPS were deemed “invalid” after the tests piled up at FedEx drop boxes. Data from the Chicago Public Schools website shows 35,816 tests were completed between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, but 24,986 were deemed “invalid.”
At the same time, the city has recorded a daily average of 110 hospitalizations, representing about four in every 100,000 residents, and 8.29 deaths, representing just 0.3 in every 100,000. Nearly 65% of Chicagoans have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the American Academy of Pediatrics have noted that school closures disproportionately impact minority students in urban school settings who may not have access to the same remote-learning tools as children in suburban areas.