As Chicago union prepares to vote on distance education, district says schools are safe

As the Chicago Teachers Union prepares to vote Tuesday night on whether to return to virtual education as cases of Covid-19 increase, a move that could potentially trigger an “electronic lockdown” by the school district, the District CEOs pleaded with the union to keep schools open.

“There is no evidence that our schools are dangerous,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said at a press conference on Tuesday.

But union vice president Stacy Davis Gates said teachers faced “serious staff shortages” and a lack of mitigation measures against Covid-19.

“The layers of mitigation we need to keep our schools open and keep our students inside school buildings haven’t happened here in Chicago,” Davis Gates said on New Day. CNN Tuesday.

The union plans to call an emergency meeting to vote on virtual education after public schools in Chicago, the third largest school district in the country, resumed in-person learning on Monday.

While their vote was in progress, Chicago officials held a second press conference.

Martinez said if teachers don’t show up for work, they won’t get paid.

He also said that even though there are no classes, the buildings will be open for the children to come.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there was no doubt that when the area became completely remote last year, “our children suffered”.

She advocated letting school administrators decide when to switch to online learning.

“What I know from talking to public health experts, what I know from talking to our CEO, is that there is no basis in the data, science or common sense for us to stop a whole system when we can do it surgically in a school level where it’s needed, ”she said.

She added that the city had spent more than $ 100 million on mitigation measures, such as improving ventilation systems in schools and HEPA filters.

The union vote comes as pediatric Covid-19 cases nationwide have reached record levels, according to data released Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, with cases rising nearly 64% over the course of the week ending December 30 compared to the previous week.

Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, however, argued earlier that Covid-19 does not affect children almost as severely as adults.

“I understand people are afraid,” Arwady said. “I understand that you look at these numbers and see that they are high, but I just want to reassure you that, especially if you are vaccinated, your child is vaccinated, he is really behaving like the flu and we are not closing the districts. school, especially for long periods, for the flu.

“I remain extremely comfortable with the children continuing their education in person,” Arwady said at the first press conference.

She said during the second media event that there were 550,000 children in the city and an average of seven are hospitalized each day – almost all of them are unvaccinated children between the ages of 12 and 17.

Martinez said keeping students in schools gives the district better access for families to get them tested and vaccinated.

“One of the reasons I continue to advocate, including with the leaders of CTU, for schools to stay open and classes to continue, because this is our best chance to reach families,” Martinez said. .

The union meeting will include a survey of group delegates (elected union leaders for individual schools) to find out if they support distance education until the current wave of Covid-19 subsides.

The union will also send the same question electronically to its roughly 25,000 grassroots members on Tuesday, according to a union official.

In a virtual union meeting on Sunday, around 80% of the 8,000 members present said they were unwilling to return to work in person under current conditions, the official said.

If grassroots members voted to return to distance education, these teachers would notify their respective principals on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning that they would be ready to teach, but only remotely – effectively leaving their physical classrooms.

In similar circumstances in the past, the district threatened to exclude teachers from their distant classes, the official added.

If the union votes in favor of the expulsion, classes will be canceled for Wednesday, Martinez said.

“We’re still determined to try to make a deal,” Martinez said, but “if all this doesn’t work… I will have to cancel classes tomorrow.”

“I have to be responsible, not knowing who is going to show up in the buildings,” Martinez said.

Parents express their frustration

Darian Martyniuk, father of a 7th grade boy at Lane Tech Academic Center and a daughter at Von Steuben High School, said: “I’m glad the kids are back, I’m glad they are trying. to make it work, but I think the whole situation has been a failure of leadership on both sides of the issue. I think the impression is that the union is just cracking up or just using this as a bargaining tactic to get what they want, but I think they have some legitimate concerns.

“They are all masks,” he added. “Forget the distancing… These are the masks. If everyone is wearing masks, transmission drops dramatically. This is really what it is. And if you’re vaccinated, which most teachers at CPS are, I’m pretty sure.

Parent Maureen Kelleher withdrew her Grade 7 daughter from Chicago public schools last year for her handling of the pandemic.

“Fundamentally, the basic issues lie on the shoulders of the CCP leadership and City Hall,” Kelleher said. “The union has a role to play in this area, but it’s the job of the district to figure out how to educate the children no matter what. So the things that they haven’t figured out what to do is look at the situation through the eyes of the people who are in the crosshairs of two things.

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