Chicago students miss out on remote and in-person learning after a deadlock between the teachers union and school district

A day after in-person learning resumed Monday, the union voted Tuesday night to teach virtually instead.

The school district responded by canceling school for Wednesday, insisting students need to return to classrooms.

“I’m afraid because I have a husband. I have a young child. I have a 90-year-old grandmother with underlying health conditions and issues,” educator Keyonna Payton said Wednesday.

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“So, I would just appreciate being able to work in an environment where at least the students are all PCR-tested weekly, and we have their results to go to in-person instruction.”

If the stalemate continues, teachers might not return to classrooms until January 18, union President Jesse Sharkey said Wednesday.

He said teachers might return to schools earlier if the current Covid-19 surge subsides or if the union reaches an agreement with the city and school district officials.

Chicago Public Schools officials said they will announce an update Wednesday.

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Chicago Public Schools described the union’s vote to teach remotely an “unfortunate decision.”

Teachers will not be paid for refusing to report to school in person, CEO Pedro Martinez said Tuesday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said going remote would “harm hundreds of thousands of Chicago families who rely upon CPS for the daily needs for their education, for their nutrition, for their safety. That’s real harm.”

Lightfoot and Martinez have said it should be up to individual schools whether they should move to online learning due to the number of Covid-19 cases.

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Chicago Health Department Commissioner Allison Arwady said families should not be overly concerned about the virus.

“Especially if you’re vaccinated, your child is vaccinated, this is behaving really like the flu. And we don’t close school districts, especially for extended periods of time, for the flu,” Arwady said Tuesday.

“I remain extremely comfortable with children continuing in-person education.”

Martinez said keeping students in schools can actually help the district better access families to get them tested and vaccinated.

“One of the reasons why I continue to plead, including with CTU leadership, to keep the schools open and to keep classes going (is) because that’s our best chance to reach families,” he said.

Teachers are locked out from remote platforms

Even though school was canceled for Wednesday, some educators tried to log on to their remote teaching platforms — only to discover they were locked out, the Chicago Teachers Union tweeted.

Chicago Public Schools officials didn’t confirm whether they had locked teachers out of their remote platforms. But Wednesday morning, the school district reiterated to CNN that the union’s vote amounted to “a work stoppage.”

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Payton said the lockout was “disheartening and disappointing” because it wasted a day when students could have been learning.

“So instead of trying to develop a plan to ensure that students could learn today, the schools were closed,” the educator said. “So they had no instruction.”

Sharkey said teachers would rather be in classrooms — but in-person learning without added safety precautions would put teachers, staff, students and their families at risk.

“This is a virus that’s raging through the city,” the union president told reporters.

He said the city of Chicago has “failed to deliver a whole number of basic demands that we need in the schools, has failed to provide adequate staffing, adequate cleaning in the schools, has failed to provide adequate testing, has failed to address our concerns as people going to the schools.”

As a result, Sharkey said, “teachers and the school staff have decided the only thing we get to control is whether we go into the buildings.”

Some parents blame both sides

Carolina Barrera Tobón has a first grader and a third grader in Chicago Public Schools. She said she’s frustrated with the teachers’ union as well as the school district and mayor.

“I am very disappointed in the Chicago Teachers Union for the fearmongering tactics and negative rhetoric regarding this vote. I am equally disappointed in the CPS CEO and our mayor,” said Tobón, a professor at DePaul University.

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“CPS has dropped the ball on so many important decisions and the implementation of safety procedures. And I honestly do not trust the teachers union to stay remote for only two weeks after their continued spread of misinformation regarding the safety of our schools.”

Others worried about the negative effect of distance learning on the children.

“Here we go again,” said Natasha Dunn, mother to a seventh grader at Harriet Tubman Elementary School.

“I am completely against schools closing. Jill has been in school pretty much every day since August without any issues,” Dunn said.

“She was so excited to be back in school — interacting with her classmates, joining clubs and participating in sports,” Dunn said. “We have started seeing her grades improve and her overall mood. Closing the entire district down will only interrupt her progress.”

CNN’s Carma Hassan and Elizabeth Stuart contributed to this report.

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