CHICAGO (AP) – Classes at Chicago public schools will be canceled on Wednesday after the teachers’ union voted to switch to distance learning due to the latest wave of COVID-19, officials from the district.
The move to the nation’s third-largest school district comes amid a growing battle over pandemic safety protocols in schools. The status of the investigation for the remainder of the week remained in limbo. The union’s action, approved by 73% of members, called for distance education until “cases ease significantly” or union leaders approve an agreement on safety protocols with the district.
“This decision was taken with a heavy heart and with particular emphasis on the safety of students and the community,” the union said in a statement.
Chicago public school officials have insisted all schools remain open for in-person lessons, saying distance education during the pandemic has been disastrous for children’s learning and mental health. But the union argued that district security protocols were lacking and teachers and students were vulnerable.
The contentious issues in the district of about 350,000 students include measures that would trigger school closures. The district has proposed guidelines for individual school closures, saying safety measures such as required masks, availability of vaccines and improved ventilation make schools among the safest places for children. But the union has proposed measures for the district-wide shutdown, citing risks to students and teachers.
Students returned to class on Monday after a two-week winter break with COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations fueled by the omicron variant at record levels. School districts across the country have faced the same problem, with most choosing to remain open.
While the union called the return-to-distance education vote, district leaders called it a “walkout” and “illegal work stoppage.” A contentious battle erupted last January over similar issues, prompting a bumpy start to the district’s return to face-to-face training after being removed for the first time in March 2020.
Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said the buildings would remain open regardless of the union vote, saying the buildings were open to administrators, staff and “essential services”, but not education for students . Mayor Lori Lightfoot also reported that teachers who fail to report for work will be placed on “unpaid status”.
Responding to union concerns, the district said it had provided 200,000 KN95 masks to teachers, would allow schools to bring back the daily health screening issues for students and visitors to buildings that were needed during the school year. last, and set the parameters for closing individual schools. For example, the district said it would switch to distance learning at an elementary school if 50% of its classrooms had more than 50% of its students tasked with isolating or quarantining.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which has about 25,000 members, said Tuesday it was reviewing the district’s offer but received it “minutes” before the press conference. The union had called for the same measures to close schools under a deal last year, which expired over the summer. This includes a two-week district-wide hiatus for in-person learning if the city-wide COVID-19 test positivity rate increases for seven consecutive days, for example.
Union leaders said more safety protocols were needed and the COVID-19 outbreak was causing staff shortages. The district said about 82% of its approximately 21,600 teachers reported working on Monday, which was below normal, but classes were covered by substitute teachers and other staff.
District officials said student attendance for the week was not yet available.
About 100,000 students and 91 percent of its more than 47,000 employees in the district are vaccinated, according to the district.
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