Classes canceled at last minute in Chicago after teachers union votes to return to remote learning

(Kevin Bessler | The Center Square) – The Chicago Teachers Union voted late Tuesday to urge Chicago Public Schools to switch to remote learning because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.


(Kevin Bessler | The Center Square) – The Chicago Teachers Union voted late Tuesday to urge Chicago Public Schools to switch to remote learning because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot on the playground of a Chicago school.

The teachers voted to refuse to report to school buildings on Wednesday.

CPS students had just returned to class Monday after winter break, but union leaders contend the classrooms are not safe. After the union vote, the nation’s third largest school district canceled all classes and activities for Wednesday.

“The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CT) has voted not to report to work tomorrow, therefore classes will be canceled for all CPS students on Wednesday, Jan. 5,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a message to families. “We apologize for the late nature of this message given the CT’s technical difficulties during their vote. There will be no in-person or remote instruction tomorrow, and parents should not plan to send children to school.”

“I understand your frustration and deeply regret this interruption to your child’s learning. I also understand that you need certainty about what the coming days will look like for your students,” he said. “My team and I are working on a plan and will share details with you by the end of the day tomorrow. We want our children back in their classrooms as soon as possible and will continue working with the CT to reach an agreement that addresses their concerns and that is in the best interest of all in our CPS community, especially our children.”

After visiting several schools Monday, Martinez said learning should remain in person, and only affected classrooms should be switched to remote learning. He said efforts to test in some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods did not go well because many at-home test kits were thrown out because they arrived at the lab too late.

According to data released by CPS, 35,590 COVID-19 tests were completed by students and staff between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, and 24,843 were declared invalid. Of those tests that were accepted, 18% tested positive for COVID.

CPS teachers can only work remotely if it’s sanctioned by the Chicago Board of Education.

“The challenge with having a districtwide action is it puts everybody in the same umbrella and then it becomes very challenging at how to reverse that,” Martinez said. “We can keep it at the school level and respond to the data.”

Martinez said classes will be canceled Wednesday but schools will remain open for students.

“CEO Martinez and I are committed to continuing to work in good faith to ensure school communities remain a safe and nurturing environment for children and staff. What we have learned from this pandemic is that schools are the safest place for students to be,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said there are no current plans to reinstate online learning statewide. When asked this week if he thinks a shift to remote learning is necessary, Pritzker said the best thing is for students to be in school.

“I’ve said all along that it’s better for our students to have them in class,” he said. “But safely, and so that’s why we’ve provided and offered testing and we’ve offered and provided more vaccinations.”