Chicago Public Schools (CPS) canceled classes on Wednesday and are accused of restricting access to teacher portals after the teachers’ union voted in favor of distance learning amid an increase in cases of COVID-19 powered by the Omicron variant.
The country’s third-largest school district has rejected a return to distance learning, but the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted Tuesday to return to online learning with 73% approval. After canceling classes, CPS is now accused of excluding teachers from the school’s e-learning system.
“We are inundated with calls and emails this morning from educators who have attempted to log into their platforms to connect with their students and teach remotely and securely, but are being blocked by Mayor Lightfoot.” , CTU said on Twitter.
Many teachers post their frustrations online with the hashtag #LoriLockout, in reference to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her previous conflicts with the union.
“Half of the college is in quarantine. More than half of my 5th grade students are sick,” one teacher wrote on Twitter. “I voted for remote work because my school is not secure. I want to teach today, but CPS has kicked me out. [The CTU] did not call for a strike or a work stoppage, we called for safety. “
“Ready to teach, provide specialized instruction to diverse learners, write IEPs and communicate with families,” said another teacher, “but [Lightfoot, Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Pedro Martinez, and CPS] locked me up. They are responsible for the fact that my students are not receiving their legally authorized services today. “
District officials have called the union’s action an “illegal work stoppage,” but teachers say they fear for the safety of their students and themselves with the increase in COVID cases.
“We prefer to be in our classes teaching, we prefer the schools to be open,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at a press conference on Wednesday. “What we’re saying though is that right now we’re in the middle of a major wave, it’s breaking all records and the hospitals are full. What if we don’t get Okay, the wave is easing, and when the surge subsides, we’ll be back in the classrooms. “
News week has contacted CTU for comment.
Union members were ordered to try to log into education systems on Wednesday, although the district said there would be no education and did not distribute devices to students before the union votes, which were announced just before 11 p.m. Tuesday.
District officials blamed the union for the late cancellation, saying that despite safety measures, including a high teacher vaccination rate, “our teachers are unwilling to show up for 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.
District leaders said a plan to “continue student learning” would come later Wednesday. School officials said teachers who failed to show up on Wednesday would not be compensated. Last year, in a similar debate, the district punished teachers who did not come to schools.
Keyonna Payton, a teacher at Park Manor Elementary School who also chairs its safety committee, said she was teaching remotely Monday and Tuesday because most of her students were at home in quarantine.
Payton said she was vaccinated and stimulated, and has a child attending classes in the district who is also vaccinated, but is concerned the variant could spread to her family.
“I am doing my part to try to protect my children. However, I am afraid of this virus and its variant because of how quickly it moves and spreads,” she said during a press conference Wednesday. “I am scared because I have a husband, I have a young child and I have a 91 year old grandmother with underlying health issues.”
Contentious issues in the district include measures that would trigger school closures. The district has proposed guidelines for individual school closings, 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.
A fierce battle erupted last January over similar issues, sparking a chaotic start for the district’s return to in-person training after its first removal in March 2020.
Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said the buildings would remain open for administrators, staff and “essential services”, but not for education for students in the district which is largely low-income and black and latino. District officials said schools will offer catering from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and COVID-19 testing will continue as scheduled, but extracurricular activities will be canceled. The district also provided a list of sites in the city with available child care centers.
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 define the measures for closing individual schools. For example, the district said it would switch to distance learning at an elementary school if 50 percent of its classrooms had more than 50 percent of its students tasked with isolating or quarantining.
The union, with around 25,000 members, had called for the same measures to close schools from a deal last year, which expired before the start of the new school year. 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.