Teachers' union sends Chicago students back to remote learning

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool

Despite previous agreements having been put in place, the Chicago Public Schools system was forced to cancel classes today after the teachers’ union voted overwhelmingly to go back to remote learning, and teachers were told not to show up for work. This flies in the face of all the concessions that had already been given to the union and the fact that the City Council voted to reject a return to remote learning. They cited the “disastrous” impact that remote learning was having on both learning and mental health, in addition to the deleterious effect those programs have had on families. But the unions were having none of it, so now there won’t be any classes of any kind today. (Associated Press)

Leaders of Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday after the teachers union voted to switch to remote learning due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, the latest development in an escalating battle over pandemic safety protocols in the nation’s third-largest school district.

Chicago has rejected a districtwide return to remote instruction, saying it was disastrous for children’s learning and mental health. But the union argued the district’s safety protocols are lacking and both teachers and students are vulnerable.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s action, approved by 73% of members, called for remote instruction until “cases substantially subside” or union leaders approve an agreement for safety protocols with the district.

The union vote was taken literally in the dead of night, with the announcement coming at 11 o’clock pm and the schools having no chance to prepare for the sudden change. While they claim to have voted to go back to distance learning, no devices were issued to students to allow them to log in and participate. Parents were given virtually no time to make alternate arrangements for child care, so there will be a ripple effect on the entire city as many people find themselves unable to go to work.

The demands being made by union leadership are off the charts. The vaccination rate among staff at the schools is over 90% and the city has purchased and distributed 200,000 KN95 masks for the teachers. New air filtration systems have been installed in all of the schools. The classrooms are arguably “safer” from what little danger the Omicron variant poses than most people’s homes or places of business. And yet the teachers are refusing to go to work.

Now the situation lands back in the lap of City Hall and the City Council. They have already deemed this action to be an unauthorized work stoppage. And Mayor Lori Lightfoot has already warned that any teachers not showing up to do their jobs will have their pay suspended.

Unfortunately for the city and all of the students’ families, we are once again seeing the dangers of the unbridled power of the teachers’ unions. If they simply refuse to go to work, there aren’t enough substitutes and non-union educators available to cover even a tiny fraction of the classrooms. The unions know this and apparently have no fear of retribution for their refusal to do their jobs. And if the district cuts off their pay, they will simply go to court and likely find a way to prevail.

I won’t pretend to know how this can be pulled off, but Chicago needs to take the lead and move forward with some serious union-busting activities. The unions are holding the entire city hostage while causing genuine educational and mental wellness harm to the children they are charged with protecting and developing. This needs to stop, and not just in Chicago.