COVID-19, Political Standoff Disrupt School

For the second day, a standoff between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union will keep students out of school — physical and virtual classrooms alike.

“We have no choice but to cancel classes tomorrow,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez at an evening press conference Wednesday, following an afternoon of negotiations between CTU and CPS leadership.

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CTU members late Tuesday night voted to teach remote citing unsafe conditions in schools, in defiance of school administrators, public health officials and the mayor.

Knowing that most teachers wouldn’t show, even with the warning that they would therefore not be paid, CPS canceled class for Wednesday, and now Thursday too.

The district says CTU’s taking illegal action and so is preventing teachers who stayed home from logging onto their work emails and classrooms.

“This is not about us trying to deny or trying to just create a fight about safety procedures. It’s not about that,” Martinez said. “But when you start intimidating families, when you start intimidating staff, from the one thing that we know, which is that the safest place for children to be is in our schools, the best place for them. We know what happened when we went remote last year, and we’re being asked ‘just do it for another week, do it for another week’ as if the implications for our families were not serious, as if it was that easy to transition an entire district of over 330,000 students.”

Percy L. Julian High School student Catlyn Savada said what students and teachers are facing daily is different than what Martinez witnesses when he pops into a school for a photo opp.

“Folks in the community – myself as a student, teachers, staff, families – are like what are you talking about? This is not being implemented right, safety measures are not being implemented,” Savada said. “I heard the CEO himself say yesterday that every single one of our kids are wearing masks in school. The CEO was at my school on Monday, and I know he didn’t see every high schooler at my school with a mask on.”

Erin Copland is a school counselor and a longtime CTU member, as well as a parent of CPS students, who said that the union’s latest job action feels like Groundhog Day “in that I feel like we’re always arguing with each other” and “not working together as a team.”

But she said things are different because COVID is different, with omicron cases raging.

She said in her school there’s not enough PPE, and there should be frequent and reliable testing. She voted to go remote so there can be time to pause and get those issues remedied.

“I felt that it was the right strategy … in that we need to make change,” she said. “And that the vote was just to go remote … we’re not on strike, so teachers don’t want to stop working. Teachers want to continue working. They just want to work remotely because they think it’s the best option right now until we figure out a better solution.”

Vanessa Chavez, is also a mom, and stepmom to three CPS junior high students. Chavez she said she had been dreading this day of school getting canceled.

“I was afraid it was going to happen. I’m in health care so I follow the numbers, the COVID numbers, we track them daily,” Chavez said. ““Highest frustration goes to CTU. The misinformation that’s out there, the trying to scare families and scare their members using lies and denouncing actual data and public health officials and their guidance, the majority of my frustration lies with them.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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