Chicago Teachers Union blocks reopening... again

After months of battles between the Chicago Public Schools district (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), as well as the municipal government, high schools in the Windy City are set to reopen for in-person classes on April 19th. (Most K-8 schools have at least partially reopened at this point.) Or at least they were. With the reopening already announced and emails going out to families explaining the details, the situation looked largely resolved at last. But that’s when CTU President Jesse Sharkey stepped in yet again to try to slam the brakes on the process, in what CBS News described as a “snag” in the negotiations. He’s citing rising numbers of new COVID cases in the city and positive test results in some of the schools that have already reopened as the reason for yet another delay. And, as usual, the CTU has its usual set of demands to be met before the high school teachers will return to do their jobs. (CBS Chicago)

The Chicago Teachers Union is in ongoing negotiations with the Chicago Public Schools and that call led to some snags Wednesday.

CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are holding firm on keeping April 19 as the date for high school students to return to the buildings. But union leaders now want that plan delayed for at least a week.

“We do not yet have an agreement for safe reopening,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.

But for CPS, it is full steam ahead – with some schools already sending emails to students opting to return that tell them what days they will be back in classrooms effective April 19.

A quick look at the reasons Sharkey is offering makes this latest incident of hostage-taking look dubious at best. First of all, it’s true that Chicago has seen a 2% rise in new cases over the past couple of weeks, primarily among “younger people.” But those are younger adults. The reason for that is the fact that so many of the older residents are vaccinated at this point that young people who were ineligible for the vaccine are mostly the only targets left for the virus. As for the claim about new cases in schools, there were some of those also. But we’re talking about 13 adults and eight students out of 642 schools, more than 41,000 staff members, and 355,000 students. That doesn’t really add up to an “outbreak,” does it?

Sharkey is pushing for a one-week delay, but also once again insisting that everyone is vaccinated. Teachers were already prioritized for vaccinations, but since Sharkey’s union told the teachers to hide their vaccination status, the district can’t very well deliver the figures on that score. As for the high school students, nearly half of them are too young to receive the vaccine and the 16-18-year-old kids are supposed to wait two more weeks before signing up. That should be a largely moot issue anyway since the CDC has confirmed that transmission rates among students are quite low.

At this point, it’s looking as if the CTU is just trying to run out the clock and keep the schools closed until the summer recess begins. So what is the school district or the municipal government to do if the CTU continues to balk despite a deal having already been reached? I realize that Democratic politicians are petrified with fear when it comes to angering the unions, but there has to be a breaking point. If Mayor Lori Lightfoot has any gumption and the CPS actually cares about educating children, they should stick to the April 19th reopening date and just start handing out pink slips to any teachers who don’t show up. With so many people out of work these days, I’m sure they could find at least some people to apply for those positions.

Sadly, that would only be a short-term remedy. The underlying problem isn’t with most of the teachers themselves, but with the CTU. Chicago needs some good old-fashioned union-busting action. This pandemic has exposed teacher’s unions across the country as being obstacles to the education of children rather than providers. A recent poll showed that only 29% of parents still feel that the unions provide a positive influence on their children’s education and that number has been steadily sinking. At this point, it would probably be a political winner for a politician – even a Democrat – to take them out behind the shed. Don’t expect it to happen, though. At least not as long as the unions keep funding the election campaigns of most Democrats.