School classes canceled in Chicago amid clash between officials and teachers’ unions

Chicago public school officials canceled classes for Wednesday amid a clash with the teachers’ union, whose members had threatened to stay home in an attempt to force online education during a wave of coronavirus .

Union members had criticized the district’s response to the Omicron variant, which has pushed cases in the city to record levels, and said the conditions in the classrooms were dangerous.

They voted on Tuesday to refuse to show up in school buildings, just two days after returning from winter vacation.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, however, said the return to online education was unacceptable and unnecessary, and his administration decided to cancel classes altogether – keeping the buildings open for child care. emergency – rather than reverting to virtual education.

“No one signs up to be a home student at the last minute,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “We cannot forget how disruptive this remote process is for parents who have to work, who cannot afford the luxury of staying at home. “

Ms Lightfoot, a Democrat, urged teachers to report for work and suggested they consider an illegal work stoppage. The Chicago Teachers’ Union said Tuesday night that 73% of members who voted were in favor of suspending in-person classes.

Like other school systems, Chicago has faced a shortage of testing and a far from universal vaccination rate among students. There were a large number of staff who called due to illness and general anxiety. Other U.S. districts, including Cleveland, Milwaukee and Atlanta, have also come online temporarily, but without a public labor dispute.

“We are between a rock and a hard place – the rock being the pandemic, the anvil being an intractable and incompetent mayor,” Union vice-president Stacy Davis Gates said this week. “We said a two week break so they could get together, have good communication, put in place the necessary mitigations.”

Coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in Chicago to their highest level since the start of the pandemic. But as in the rest of the country, vaccinated adults had lower hospitalization and death rates, while children of all ages – regardless of their vaccination status – were spared the consequences to a very large extent. serious.

Additionally, data from Chicago and elsewhere shows that school transmission of Covid-19 has been limited, with the majority of cases of teachers and students coming from outside school buildings. More than 90 percent of Chicago public school employees are fully immunized.

Yet members of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union have accused the school district of failing to adapt to Omicron and the growing threat of revolutionary infections. During the holidays, they had requested either a universal PCR test of students and staff, or a two-week transition to distance learning.


Pedro Martinez, district director general, said on Tuesday he would be more aggressive about closing school buildings if large numbers of staff and students were infected with the coronavirus. But he opposed a district-wide shutdown, suggesting misinformation was behind the anxiety over the reopening.

He referred to the district’s investment of $ 100 million (€ 88 million) in improving building ventilation and efforts to monitor air quality in each classroom.

Dr Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner, said she remained “extremely comfortable” with students learning inside schools. “We have to do a risk-benefit analysis here and, at least in children, we have to think of it as similar to the flu. “

But the district’s failed efforts to test tens of thousands of students over the winter break added to the concerns of parents and teachers. Most of the 150,000 PCR tests mailed to students were never returned. Of the approximately 40,000 published tests, the majority gave invalid results.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised schools to avoid quarantines and closures by using a protocol known as a test to stay, in which close contacts of positive virus cases perform two rapid antigen tests in one week ; only those who test positive should stay home.

But Chicago officials, like those in many cities and towns across the country, said they don’t have nearly the number of rapid tests they need. Dr Arwady said the city had not received any new deliveries of rapid tests since November, despite pending orders. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times

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