The coronavirus pandemic not only pitted the United States against China, which was the source of the virus outbreak, but also pitted powerful teachers’ unions against public officials, teachers, parents, and schoolchildren. Although many politically-red cities and states have safely reopened their schools, liberal states and cities have been slow to do so.
An ongoing example of how entrenched teachers’ unions can hold a city hostage: the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) threatened to strike instead of returning to school this week. NBC’s Chicago affiliate reported that the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) planned on reopening school facilities to students and teachers, but CTU said it would not comply. Indeed, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, told the press that she may have to “take action” if the teachers followed through with a strike.
Although CTU and CPS have called a “cooling off” period, in which no strike would take place and teachers would not be locked out of their instructional program Google Suite, negotiations to end the stalemate were ongoing. Most of the negotiations centered around the safety of teachers—coronavirus testing, vaccination process, and a health metric for teachers. CPS disputed CTU’s claims and said that they had already outlined clear guidelines for vaccinations and health metric for teachers.
Lightfoot told MSNBC that the union’s talking points of allegedly-unsafe working conditions were false, “We’ve invested over $100 million in ventilation, other safety protocols, making sure that we have masks, safety health screening, temperature checks, all the things that you would expect, that the CDC guidance has told us, that we know make sense to mitigate any issues in schools.”
So far, pre-K students and cluster learning students have been attending class in-person for several weeks and no outbreaks have been reported.
The teachers voted in January to return to remote (or virtual) learning, while CPS said all teachers must report to K-8 classrooms by January 25 and students can return to classrooms on February 1. CPS, like Lightfoot, said that if teachers did not return to class, they would be “absent without leave” and would not be able to do remote learning instruction (thus being locked out of their instructional program Google Suite).
The very-public dispute between the Chicago’s teachers’ union and its public schools demonstrated the power and sway that teachers’ unions have. The line in the proverbial sand has been drawn: Teachers’ unions are not allies of parents or students, but appeared to focus more on maximizing their paychecks at the expense of student learning and academic achievement.