Officials for Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday as the school system clashes with the Chicago Teachers' Union, whose members voted to temporarily return to a remote learning model.
School system officials says they will not accept the return to remote learning, opting to cancel classes, extracurricular activities and sporting events. They also argue that if the union continues to insist on a remote-model, it will amount to an "illegal work stoppage."
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot deemed going back to a remote model unacceptable and unnecessary, even amid the surge of Omicron cases.
"Nobody signs up for being a home-schooler at the last minute. We can’t forget about how disruptive that remote process is to individual parents who have to work, who can’t afford the luxury of staying home," the Democrat mayor said.
"What I’d love to see CTU do is not force an illegal work stoppage," she also said. "What I’d love to see them do is work hand-in-glove with us to get kids and their families vaccinated."
Teachers say they will return to classrooms when the current surge has passed, or when Lightfoot's team agrees to establish working conditions approved by the union.
Data from Chicago and cities across the country shows the the rate of in-school transmission of COVID-19 has been minimal and that children, regardless of whether they have received a vaccine, largely do not suffer severe cases of the virus.
Those facts, however, have not stopped the CTU from accusing the district of failing to adequately meet the challenges of the new variant.
The mayor and Pedro Martinez, the chief executive of the school district, said they would act aggressively to shut down school buildings if COVID cases were spreading to large numbers of students and staff, but that a "one-size-fits-all strategy" would not work.
"Throwing up our hands and acting as if we don’t have this body of knowledge that our schools are safe, that we spent $100 million to make them safe, and that we have the vaccine, we don’t need a one-size-fits-all strategy," Lightfoot said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised schools to avoid quarantines for students and complete closures by embracing a test-to-stay model, in which individuals who have had close contact with positive cases take two rapid antigen tests in a week, and only those who test positive stay home.
The suggested model, however, depends on the availability of rapid tests. Officials in Chicago say they have not received a new shipment of tests since November.