Chicago Public Schools, parents, and students were stunned when the city’s teachers’ union chose to strike. The Chicago Teachers Union said that it would not teach in-person classes unless more coronavirus testing is implemented in schools and the majority of teachers stayed home.
The union shut down in-person classes from January 5-11 when it voted against in-person learning upon returning to school after the winter break. The strike ended when the district made more compromises to appease the union.
Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, called the strike “illegal” because the union overreached by unilaterally pushing for remote learning and not continuing in-person classes. She issued blistering criticism of the union when she said the following:
“CTU leadership, you’re not listening. The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”
The public schools pointed out that it is not authorized, under state law, to authorize remote learning. If it did as the union asked, none of the remote classes would count towards the state-mandated number of instructional days. The district rebuffed a proposal by the union to not dock union members’ pay, but it did acknowledge that it reached an agreement to provide KN95 masks for all staff and students, reinstate health screeners on a school-by-school basis, provide weekly COVID-19 testing, contact trace and incentivize substitute teachers to accept assignments.
A group of parents filed a lawsuit to try to spur the union to end their strike, which lawsuit alleged that the union’s actions constituted an illegal strike.
The Chicago Public Schools serve at least 350,000 students and it is not the first time that the district has sparred with the union over in-person classes. During the pandemic, parents begged politicians, district leaders and the teachers’ union to return to in-person classes sooner.