Chicago Teachers Union Refuses In-Person Learning Until Buildings are Safe

Lily Bohlke | Public News Service
The Chicago Teachers Union will provide legal and other support to any teachers that choose not to go back to in-person learning until buildings are safe. Photo Credit: Katerina Holmes / Pexels

CHICAGO — Members of the Chicago Teachers Union are refusing to follow the Chicago Public School system’s order for pre-kindergarten and certain special-education teachers to come into school in person this week, with their students to follow next week.

Citing a new surge of COVID-19 cases and concerns that more are on the way following the New Year’s holiday, many teachers stayed home or worked outside their schools in the cold Monday, and plan to continue teaching online until buildings are safe for them and their students.

Sadlowski Elementary School music teacher Quentin Washington is one of them.

“They’re asking us to step into the buildings, unprepared, ill equipped, no testing mandates. And it’s just not fair to our students. It’s not fair to our school communities,” Washington said.

Union members say the fear of losing their jobs is real – and many teachers in Chicago Public Schools are the sole or primary income earners in their households. But they say the fear of the coronavirus for their students and families is greater.

School and city officials say online learning disproportionately hurts Black and Latino kids and teens, who make up 90% of the district’s students. But Brentano Elementary preschool teacher Kirsten Roberts noted more Black and Latino families have been opting to stay online, while a higher proportion of white families want to return to school.

“They’re destroying remote for the many in order to force an unsafe reopening in-person learning plan for the few,” Roberts said.

The Teachers Union is clear this is not a strike – members plan to continue teaching virtually, and communicate with their students, families, and colleagues. More than 30 aldermen on the Chicago City Council signed a letter amplifying the safety and equity concerns.