Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union that would bring students back to classrooms on Wednesday after a coronavirus security dispute canceled a week of classes in the country’s third largest school district.
“Nobody is more frustrated than me,” said Ms. Lightfoot after the deal was reached. She added, “I am glad that we will hopefully leave this behind and look ahead. But at some point enough is enough. “
The deal, which city officials said included provisions for additional testing and metrics that schools would close in the event of severe virus outbreaks, was approved by the union’s house of delegates on Monday evening and is due to be voted on by rank later that week. File teacher.
The teachers were expected to return to the school buildings on Tuesday and the students to come to them the next day. Union leaders described the agreement as imperfect and were very critical of Ms. Lightfoot, but said the agreement was necessary given the conditions teachers face during the pandemic.
“This agreement is the only level of security available to anyone setting foot in Chicago Public Schools, especially those places in the city where tests are low and vaccination rates are low,” said Stacy Davis Gates, vice union president.
School principals in the United States have struggled to adapt to the highly contagious variant of Omicron, which has propelled the country’s daily case numbers to record levels and led to record hospital admissions. Most school districts have pushed face-to-face tuition as the Biden government has requested, sometimes quarantining individual students or classrooms when outbreaks occur. Some major counties, including Milwaukee and Cleveland, have postponed classes online.
But the Chicago debate proved uniquely bitter and unpredictable: Hundreds of thousands of children were taken out of classes two days after the winter break when teachers voted to stop reporting in their classrooms. Instead of teaching online as the union suggested, the school district canceled classes altogether.
Chicago Public Schools leaders have insisted that virus precautions were in place and that any interruption in face-to-face classes would place an unjustified burden on parents and adversely affect students’ academic and social progress. Union members said schools were unsure that more testing was needed and that classes should be temporarily relocated online.
The Chicago area, like much of the country, is seeing far more new cases on average each day than at any other time in the pandemic. The Omicron variant is believed to cause less serious illness than previous forms of the virus, with the consequences being unlikely to be severe in people who have been vaccinated. Still, coronavirus hospital admissions in Illinois have peaked last winter and continue to rise sharply.
Members of Ms. Lightfoot’s administration have defended the school system’s efforts to keep classrooms safe, stressing that children rarely face the serious consequences of Covid-19. But their efforts to reassure parents and teachers have sometimes stalled. The district introduced an optional testing plan during the winter break, but most of the 150,000 or so PCR tests given to students in the mail were never returned; the majority of those who did gave invalid results.