Chicago students falling behind as city, teachers’ union squabble
The Chicago Teachers Union has more demands before it will tell members to return to classrooms. Chicago’s mayor says the teachers’ union has a final offer.
Students continue to sit behind laptops learning from home 10 months into the pandemic as the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools remain at a stalemate over in-person learning.
“My patience with delays from the CTU leadership is over,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Feb. 4. On Feb. 5 she said the school district made its “last, best and final” offer, with students potentially scheduled to return to class on Feb. 8.
Families with diverse learners face a tough challenge. Sarah Sachen has a 10-year-old son with autism and her 7-year-old daughter takes a long time to register information.
“I’ve been placed in this impossible position where I have to decide: ‘Do I want to be their mother or their drill sergeant?’ Not every parent has the skills to deal with that 24/7,” Sachen said.
In January, Chicago public schools opened to pre-K and special education students for about three weeks before the Chicago Teachers Union urged its members to stay home and continue remote teaching over COVID-19 safety measures. The school district said the two sides had already agreed on major issues after more than 80 sessions.
Lightfoot was adamant that her position to get students back in class stems from what’s in the best interest of Chicago’s children, especially minorities. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said she continues to hear from parents of diverse learners trying to support their students’ needs, from essential workers who need the child care, and from “countless Black and Latinx families who are falling behind.”
“At this point, finding a public health expert who opposes in-person learning would be like finding a scientist that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Jackson said.
Al Molina, another CPS parent of diverse learners and a former school administrator, said academic gaps widen the longer in-person learning is delayed.
“I’m very worried about students with special education needs, whether they be cognitive learning, physical or social-emotional. I’m very worried about low-income families. I’m very worried about the sub-groups that traditionally score lower than Caucasian students, or suburban students,” he said.
“While some groups of children had achievement gaps prior to the pandemic, I have to believe that they have just increased.”
Research out of Columbia University confirms Molina’s fears. A study in December 2020 found remote education widens the achievement gap as it is less effective for disadvantaged communities, which often lack support for remote education.
CTU insists on waiting to reopen until teachers are vaccinated or the city-wide positivity rate falls below 3%, yet the research is not on their side.
The Centers for Disease Control announced on Jan. 26, “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
“Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Feb. 2.
Anecdotal evidence from Chicago shows in-person learning is relatively safe, with 40,000 parochial, charter and other public school students safely in class.
“To know that a school a few blocks away from my house has in-person learning and other neighboring districts that have in-person learning saddens me as to why my children cannot participate in in-person learning also,” Molina said.
CPS expects about 77,000 students, or one-third of its elementary students, initially to attend class when in-person learning resumes. CTU President Jesse Sharkey said an agreement is still possible if the sides can agree on a phased approach, but he said a strike may be necessary to get there. Because a contract is in place, a strike would likely be illegal.
Chicago’s students are falling behind, some more than others. Solutions to catch them up remain remote.