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The Chicago Teachers Union said on Sunday its members had voted to defy an order to return to the classroom because of concerns about Covid-19, setting up a showdown with district officials who have said that refusing to return when ordered would amount to an illegal strike.
The third-largest US school district wanted around 10,000 teachers and other staff, from kindergarten through eighth grade, to return to schools on Monday, to get ready to welcome back roughly 70,000 students for part-time in-school classes starting from 1 February. No return date has been set for high school students.
The teachers union opposes the plan over concern for the health of its members and called for continued teaching from home. The union said the district’s safety plan fell short, contending that different metrics would be needed to gauge infections at schools and vaccinations would need to be more widespread before teachers can safely return to classrooms.
“There’s no doubt we all want to return to in-person instruction,” the union said in a statement. “The issue is [Chicago Public Schools]’ current unpreparedness for a return to in-person instruction, and the clear and present danger that poses to the health of our families and school communities.”
The two sides have been negotiating for months and talks continued on Sunday. Officials have argued that remote learning isn’t working for all, including many low-income and Black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. The district safety plan includes thousands of air purifiers, more cleaning and a voluntary testing program.
CPS officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
The roughly 355,000-student district, which turned to full-time online instruction last March, has gradually welcomed students back. Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students resumed in-person learning earlier this month and teachers who did not return to classrooms were punished.
The union has also argued that schools do not need to be fully staffed, given lower-than-expected attendance. CPS data showed that about 19% of students eligible for pre-K and special education in-person learning attended. That figure was even lower than a December survey that showed around 6,500 of nearly 17,000 eligible students were interested.
The union’s collective bargaining agreement, approved after a 2019 strike, prohibits its 25,000 members from striking and bars district officials from locking them out. District officials have said a union vote not to return to schools on Monday would violate the contract.
Union officials say returning to in-person instruction before its members are vaccinated and without other safeguards would put them at greater risk of contracting the virus. They argue that if the district tries to punish teachers for staying home, the district would be responsible for a work stoppage.
Illinois is scheduled to start the next phase of its vaccination plan, which expands eligibility to teachers and people aged 65 and older. The district said it would begin vaccinating teachers and staff starting in mid-February and the process would take months.
The Chicago vote comes at a time of great uncertainty in the US about how and when schools should resume in-person instruction.
President Joe Biden has pledged to have a majority of schools open within his first 100 days in office. He is promising new federal guidelines on school opening decisions, and a “large-scale” education department effort to identify and share the best ways to teach during a pandemic.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Chicago teachers defy order to return to classrooms under shadow of Covid | Chicago