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Chicago Teachers Union Considering Strike Over Return to Classrooms

The Chicago Teachers Union is set to vote about whether or not they support a return to in-person learning during COVID.

The union’s 600-member House of Delegates will be voting on Tuesday and all 25,000 members of the union will receive digital ballots on Wednesday.

The ballot will ask the members if they support working remotely instead of in person.

During a virtual town hall held by the union on Sunday, 80 percent of the 8,000 people on the call said that they want to work remotely.

WBEZ Chicago noted that “this action is triggering a showdown between the union and the school district, which could lock teachers out of their remote classrooms and prevent them from teaching. This would effectively shut down the school district.”

“I am so pissed off that we have to continuously fight for the basic necessities, the basic mitigations,” the union’s vice president, Stacy Davis Gates, said on Monday, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez told the Chicago Tribune that he’s “not going to give up” trying to come to an agreement with the union and avoid a strike.

“I visited six schools today, and our network chiefs were visiting schools across the city. And one of the things that we saw was just significant differences across schools,” Martinez told the Tribune, explaining that some are understaffed and have low student attendance, while others do not. “When I saw that today, it just, for me, confirmed that we need to have a solution that’s at the school level, where we can be nimble, where we can respond to what’s happening.”

Martinez explained that whether or not a school closes should go on a case by case basis.

“And it will be factors like, how many of our staff have COVID? How many of them are in quarantine? How many of our children have COVID? How many of them are in quarantine? Do they vary across different classrooms?” Martinez said. “I think those kind of metrics we can come up with, and we can be very nimble based on what’s happening with omicron, so we can do the right things.”

Martinez said that remote learning is not practical or good for students.

“I just don’t believe that a districtwide action is going to be practical. It’s going to punish. We have over 100,000 students that are vaccinated. So many of our children — the vast majority — want to be in school. They want to be in person, and for us, we know that’s the best place for them to learn,” Martinez said.

“Parents remember what it was like when the district went remote the last time. I think the fear that exists right now is if the whole district has to take a district action, it’s very difficult to come back from that. And we know the mental and the social-emotional impact that it has on our children, not to mention the academic challenges that our children will have.”

Students returned to school buildings on Monday following their winter break.

The Tribune report states that Chicago Public Schools has said that it is “deeply concerned” that any “refusal to work” by the Chicago Teachers Union “could place the health and safety of members of our community, particularly our students, at increased risk.”

Last week, the union suggested going remote for two weeks and implementing mandatory testing for all staff and students.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement that she is committed to keeping students “safely in school.”

“We cannot forget that shifting fully to remote learning is not a panacea and comes with significant harm to students and their families,” Lightfoot’s deputy director of communications tweeted.

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