School's Out in Nation's 3rd-Largest District—Again

Chicago Public Schools fails to reach agreement with teachers union
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 5, 2022 5:59 AM CST
Updated Jan 6, 2022 12:01 AM CST
In Chicago, Decision on Schools Made 'With a Heavy Heart'
Pedro Martinez speaks after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced him as the new chief executive of Chicago Public Schools during a news conference in Chicago on Sept. 15, 2021.   (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File)

Update: Chicago Public Schools has canceled Thursday classes, the second day in a row, after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over virtual learning and other COVID-19 protocols amid the latest surge in cases. The closure will affect 350,000 students, the AP reports. Our original story from Wednesday follows:

Leaders of Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday after the teachers union voted to switch to remote learning due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, the latest development in an escalating battle over pandemic safety protocols in the nation's third-largest school district. Chicago has rejected a districtwide return to remote instruction, saying it was disastrous for children's learning and mental health. But the union argued that the district's safety protocols are lacking and both teachers and students are vulnerable, per the AP. The Chicago Teachers Union's action, approved by 73% of its members, called for remote instruction until "cases substantially subside" or union leaders approve an agreement for safety protocols with the district.

Union members were instructed to try and log into teaching systems Wednesday, even though the district said there'd be no instruction and didn't distribute devices to students ahead of the union votes, which were announced just before 11pm Tuesday. "This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety," the union said in a statement. However, district officials blamed the union for the late cancellation, saying despite safety measures, including a high teacher vaccination rate, "our teachers are not willing to report to work." "We are deeply concerned about this decision, but even more concerned about its impact on the health, safety, and well-being of our students and families," the district said in a statement.

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The status of instruction for the rest of the week remained in limbo, while district leaders said a plan to "continue student learning" would come later Wednesday. School officials deemed the union action a "work stoppage" and said those who didn't report to schools Wednesday wouldn't be compensated. Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said buildings would remain open for administrators, staff, and "essential services," but not instruction for students in the district that's largely low income and Black and Latino. Students returned to class Monday after a two-week winter break, with COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations fueled by the omicron variant at record levels.

(More Chicago stories.)

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