Chicago Teachers Union idles students, threatens 4th strike in 9 years

Chicago Teachers Union idles students, threatens 4th strike in 9 years

All of the evidence supports getting Chicago students back in the classroom after more than 10 months. The Chicago Teachers Union is refusing to let teachers accompany them.

More than 60 meetings later, despite the scientific community’s assurances and the school district’s extensive monitoring plans, the Chicago Teachers Union wants its members to stay home.

That forced Chicago Public Schools leaders to cancel in-person classes Jan. 27 for about 3,000 pre-kindergarten and special education students, who have been back in class since Jan. 11. This upheaval is also threatening to prevent more than 240,000 elementary students from returning after 10 months to in-person learning on Feb. 1.

The union told teachers not to report to work on Jan. 27 because it wants them vaccinated before entering schools and questioned the health metrics, school ventilation and protective equipment availability. The district has said more than 60 meetings resolved the key issues to keep students and teachers safe, and teacher vaccinations will be available starting mid-February.

The CTU now wants a mediator to resolve the remaining issues. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot agreed to that.

“Teachers, of course we want you to be safe. Of course we take your health and safety incredibly seriously, and we have built a plan to make sure you can get the vaccine,” Lightfoot told teachers Jan. 26. “But you need to work with us, you need to talk to your leadership, because we can’t get there unless we get there together. And we need to get a deal done for our children.”

The union is also threatening a strike. With teachers refusing to attend class, the district may lock them out of the remote learning platforms, which would also stop students from using them. If that happens, CTU is threatening its fourth strike in nine years.

That strike would likely be illegal, and leave teachers open to district discipline if they picket and union discipline if they don’t. Under Illinois labor law, CPS teachers and staff cannot engage in a strike when there is a current collective bargaining agreement in place. Striking while under contract is considered an illegal strike.

And the union’s power to strike could grow if Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs House Bill 2275. This bill repeals restrictions that at least partially hinder the union’s ability to walk out by limiting the subjects that could lead them to call a strike to benefits and compensation.

The union’s willingness to strike even with the restrictions cost students 11 days of instruction in 2019 and property taxpayers $80 a year on average. Lightfoot said city residents thought they’d bought five years of labor peace after that strike, but are now faced with an unstable school system that has more of them choosing to move away.

The high costs to students and taxpayers is why no other state in the region allows teachers to strike. Only Illinois labor law allows it.

In this fight, CTU has neither the law nor science on its side. The American Academy of Pediatrics and UNICEF both stated there is no consistent relationship between reopening schools and COVID-19 transmission. Chicago’s 20,000 parochial students have been safely in class since the fall.

So parents are left to wonder: Is it unreasonable fear that has CTU staging teachers in parkas tapping at laptops outside schools, or is it another power play against a mayor they opposed?

Emotion. Science. Law. Power. What appears to be missing from the calculations is the educational and emotional needs of Chicago’s children, and the damage they have already suffered from 10 months of being out of school.

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