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Chicago Teachers Union again rejects in-person schooling, prompts citywide school closures

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The Chicago Teachers Union voted to reject in-person schooling and once again transition to a remote-only work environment on Tuesday, citing unsafe working conditions amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. The move, which was reportedly the result of a unionwide survey, prompted Chicago Public Schools to cancel classes Wednesday.

In a lengthy Twitter thread posted late Tuesday night, the nation's third-largest teachers' union announced that all of its more than 25,000 rank-and-file members would be logging in remotely to work starting the very next day and would continue to do so until changes ensuring their health and safety were made.

"The results of tonight's citywide electronic ballot are in. Starting tomorrow, all CTU members at CPS schools should be working remotely. The result of tonight's vote was 73% in favor of the remote-work-only job action," the union wrote.

"To be clear: Educators of this city want to be in buildings with their students," the union added. "We believe that classrooms are where our children should be. But as the results tonight show, Mayor [Lori] Lightfoot and her CPS team have yet to provide safety for the overwhelming majority of schools."

The union attempted to reassure parents who, along with their children, will undoubtedly face the brunt of the negative implications of the union's decisions.

"To other parents and guardians of this city, we want you to know that when you put your children in our care, we put their well-being and safety first. We fight for your children like they are our own, because when we teach, they are," the union insisted.

It added, "We understand the frustration that is felt by tonight's decision, and assure families that we will continue to work diligently, as we have for the past 21 months [since the pandemic began]."

The union's promises are likely to ring hollow for countless Chicago parents who have seen their children suffer mentally and fall behind academically under remote schooling over the past year and a half.

Forced to cancel classes Wednesday due to the virtual strike, Chicago Public Schools pre-emptively responded by threatening to put teachers who don't show up to work on "no-pay status" until they return.

Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who also warned that teachers who did not show up for in-person work on Wednesday would be put on no-pay status, slammed the decision in a statement, saying, "I have to tell you, it feels like ‘Groundhog Day,’ that we are here again," in reference to last year when the union threatened an illegal strike over similarly supposedly unsafe working conditions.

"There is no basis in the data, the science, or common sense for us to shut an entire system down when we can surgically do this at a school level," Lightfoot added, calling out union leaders for “politicizing the pandemic."

According to the Chicago Tribune, as a part of Tuesday's vote, the Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates approved a two-week pause for in-person instruction, until Jan. 18, allowing time for COVID-19 cases to decrease or for an agreement to be made between the city and its public schools that satisfies the union's demands.

Prior to the scheduled return to classes following winter break, the union reportedly demanded that certain safety measures — including large-scale COVID-19 testing, distribution of K95 or similar-quality masks to all students and staff, and established thresholds for a district to shift to remote learning based on citywide positivity rates — be implemented.

"If we had testing, if we had a way to help ensure that people coming into the buildings weren't carrying the Omicron variant, that would be a different matter, but that's not what's going on right now," union president Jesse Sharkey complained to CNN on Tuesday.

But Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez dismissed the union's fearmongering at a recent press briefing, insisting that “there is no evidence that our schools are unsafe."

“The amount of noise that’s out there right now, the amount of misinformation, we have so many people that are afraid, from parents to staff, because of the misinformation,” Martinez said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Martinez reportedly even sent an offer to meet the union halfway on some of its demands before its vote, but the union ultimately rejected it. His offer included a more localized threshold for shutting down in-person learning at specific schools based on student and staff infections — not citywide positivity rates.

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