While schools across the country have experienced similar concerns due to skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers, concerns about remote learning and other pandemics were amplified by the labor dispute in Chicago, which is union-friendly.
Students would be in class Wednesday, and teachers the next day, if the deal was approved on Monday night. The union's approximately 25,000 members must approve it. There are two issues on the table: metrics to close schools during outbreaks and expanded COVID-19 screening.
The details of Monday's proposal were not disclosed by either side. However, leaders said that the agreement included metrics for closing individual schools and plans to increase district COVID-19 testing. Parents in the district, which has approximately 350,000 students and is largely Black and Latino, were notified by the district that classes would resume on Wednesday.
Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Toronto, stated that "We know this was very difficult for students & families." "Some will wonder who won and lost. When our students are not in the safest and most effective learning environment, no one wins.
Union leaders admitted that it was not a "homerun", but they wanted teachers to be back in class with students.
Union President Jesse Sharkey stated that while it wasn't an agreement that had all the answers, it wasn't perfect, but it's something we can be proud of, partly because it was so hard to get.
Monday night, the Chicago Teachers Union's house voted to suspend its work action calling for district-wide online learning. This was until a safety plan had been developed or the latest COVID-19 surge subsided. Two days after students returned from winter break, the district rejected remote instruction and locked out teachers.
Although there was some progress made on smaller issues, such as masks and other safety concerns, negotiations on a safety plan over the weekend failed to produce a deal. The rhetoric about negotiations became more sharp. Some principals cancelled class Tuesday in an attempt to prevent further disruptions and warned about them throughout the week.
Jesse Sharkey, Union President, stated that the union and district remain "apart" on a number key features. Lightfoot was accused of refusing compromise on the top priorities of teachers.
Sharkey stated that "the mayor is being relentless" but she's also being "relentless stupid", referring to a comment the former prosecutor mayor made about refusing "relentless" negotiations. "She refuses to accept accommodation, and we are trying to find a way for people to go back to school.
Lightfoot accused teachers for "abandoning students" and reacted to the president of the union.
Lightfoot, who is Black, said that if he had a dollar for each time a privileged, clouted, white man called me stupid, he'd be a billionaire."
She had stated that she was optimistic about the new proposal by evening and it went to union leaders for a vote.
Other battles with the union that supported her opponent in the 2019 elections have marked her first term. These include a safety protocol fight last ye and a strike by teachers in 2019.
Parents and advocacy groups called for faster action Monday.
Parents on the West Side of the city, near the intersection of predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, demanded that students return to school immediately.
Cheri Warner, mother to twins aged 15 years old, stated that the sudden loss in-person learning has caused a lot of grief for her family.
One of her daughters suffers from depression and anxiety. Winter is often difficult for her. Warner stated that losing touch with her teachers and friends adds to the burden.
Warner stated that the girls had "missed their eighth grade year" and felt unprepared for high school. "They are all trying to catch up, and it's really stressful."
Others said that the district should do more.
Angela Spencer, an organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and a nurse, stated that she is concerned about her children's safety at school. Spencer stated that her children's schools were not properly cleaned prior to the pandemic, and she has "no faith" in the district's current protocols.
A number of families representing the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago filed a lawsuit against Cook County for the closures. More than 5,000 people signed a petition calling for an end to in-person instruction.
District officials called the union action an "illegal stoppage". They kept student meal pickup facilities open and stated that schools with sufficient staff could open their doors to students. District officials estimate that about 16% of teachers turned up to work Monday, despite the union's directives.
According to district officials, instruction was offered Monday at three schools, including Mount Greenwood Elementary. The relief expressed by parents at the predominantly white school on the southwest side of the city was overwhelming.
Officials from the city claimed that schools are safer when there are protocols in place. Schools have proposed a $100 million safety plan that includes air purifiers in every classroom. Nearly 91% of staff have been vaccinated. Masks are required indoors.
Union officials argue that safety measures are inadequate and that the district has failed to test and maintain a database for tracking infections.
Recent days showed little signs of agreement.
KN95 masks were purchased by the district for both students and teachers. They also agreed to return daily COVID-19 screening questions to anyone entering schools.