Chicago Public Schools shut down amid teachers union protest of Covid protocols

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The Chicago Teachers Union voted not to report to schools Wednesday, forcing the the country's third largest school district to close in-person and remote instruction for students.

“To be clear: Educators of this city want to be in buildings with their students. We believe that classrooms are where our children should be,” the union tweeted Tuesday night. “But as the results tonight show, Mayor Lightfoot and her CPS team have yet to provide safety for the overwhelming majority of schools.”

The union said its members will be working remotely until one of the following conditions is met: The surge in Covid cases substantially subsides or Mayor Lori Lightfoot's team signs an agreement establishing conditions for return that are voted on and approved by the union’s House of Delegates.

The union wants Chicago Public Schools to put in place a more robust testing policy, such as having an opt-out policy instead of the opt-in policy in place now and testing students regularly to stay ahead of outbreaks.

Coronavirus cases have risen in Chicago to their highest rate since the pandemic began, according to the city’s Covid dashboard. Positive cases are up 12 percent from the previous week and hospitalizations are up 22 percent.

CTU teachers had planned to teach remotely Wednesday, but they reported being locked out of their Google classrooms.

She urged teachers to come in to work. “We are committed to remaining at the table with CTU leadership and negotiating a fair agreement,” Lightfoot said in a tweet. “But what we cannot accept is unilateral action to shut down the entire district, depriving hundreds of thousands of students of the safe, in-person schooling environment they need.”

“I'm urging teachers. Show up to your schools. Your kids need you,” she added.

Last week Chicago Public Schools extended the deadline for parents to return the district’s at-home Covid-19 test kits after photos of overflowing drop-off boxes circulated online. The Chicago Teachers Union said the test kit plan was “not well-thought-out” and called the drop-off troubles “bureaucratic failure and chaos.”

New York City, the largest school district in the country, has implemented the test-to-stay policy where students exposed to a Covid-positive classmate can stay in school if they test negative. Kids who are exposed to a positive case outside of school still need to quarantine, however. The district is also regularly testing both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, and is distributing kits to students and staff in classes where a positive case is suspected or identified.

And in Los Angeles, the second largest district, students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to get tested for Covid before returning to school after winter break next week, officials announced Monday. The district is also providing at-home rapid tests for K-12 students.

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