Chicago Public Schools continue flip-flop, resume in-person learning

Tensions remained high this week in Chicago as Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which essentially forced the schools to close last week, held students’ near future in their hands. Even Mayor Lori Lightfoot got involved, strongly arguing against the CTU and in favor of in-person learning. Now, the district and the union have negotiated terms for a return to in-person learning—an agreement that was ratified by a narrow vote (55.5% to 45.5%) on Wednesday.

The union’s argument was that schools are unsafe due to the omicron surge, and it demanded school officials to enforce safer protocols, refusing to return to in-person learning until further compromise. Critics came out far and wide against the closure, with many pointing to the detrimental effects that remote learning has had on students. Mayor Lightfoot joined the critics, saying, “Switching completely back to remote learning without a public health reason to do so would have created and amplified the social, emotional, and economic turmoil that far too many of our families are facing.”

In the proposed agreement, the Chicago Teachers Union demanded CPS provide KN95 masks for staff and students. Individual schools within the district are also subject to shut down if staff numbers fall below 75% (including substitute teachers) due to quarantining or when 40% or more of students are missing for similar reasons. Individual classrooms that experience a positive case will go remote temporarily. If a school shifts to remote learning, they will return to in-person learning after 5 school days unless otherwise specified by the Chicago Department of Public Health. The parties also agreed on achieving 100% participation in vaccination and screening testing for students by February 1st. With the agreement outlined, teachers returned to school on Tuesday in preparation for classes to resume on Wednesday.

In spite of the agreement, CPS was confident its schools were safe before the union’s recent actions. And while schools remained shut down by the union, the rest of Chicago bustled with life and activity. Children may have been thrown out of school due to CTU’s actions, but no policy prohibited teachers and children alike from enjoying large social gatherings and meals at restaurants—experiences children encounter every day in school. 

CPS’s return to in-person learning is a relief for students, parents, and teachers. The current agreement is in effect until August 26, 2022.