The standoff between Chicago school leaders and the teachers’ union over COVID-19 safety protocols stretched into a second week

FILE – Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Jan. 5, 2022. Talks between Chicago school leaders and the teachers union resumed Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022 amid a standoff over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety measures. The situation looms over the start of a second week of school after three days of canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest district.

CHICAGO (AP) — The standoff between Chicago school leaders and the teachers’ union over COVID-19 safety protocols stretched into a second week as rhetoric between the two sides became nastier, schools began notifying families of more class cancellations and families’ frustrations grew.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the union and nation’s third-largest school district remained “apart on a number of key features” that teachers want before returning to classrooms, including a testing program and triggers to close a school for in-person instruction due to an outbreak. He also accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of refusing to compromise on teachers’ main priorities and said union leadership can’t go back to members with what the mayor’s team has offered.

“The mayor is being relentless, but she’s being relentlessly stupid, she’s being relentlessly stubborn,” Sharkey said, playing on a reference the former prosecutor mayor made about refusing to “relent” in negotiations. “She’s relentlessly refusing to seek accommodation and we’re trying to find a way to get people back in school.”

Lightfoot, who has opted for one-on-one interviews with news outlets to get out her message, accused teachers of “abandoning” students by refusing to teach in-person. She also shot back at the union president.

“If I had a dollar for every time some privileged, clouted white guy called me stupid, I’d be a bazillionaire,” Lightfoot, who is Black, told WLS-TV.

Chicago shares pandemic concerns with other districts nationwide, with more reverting to remote learning as infections soar and staff members are sidelined. But the situation in union-friendly Chicago has been amplified in a labor dispute that’s familiar to families in the mostly low-income Black and Latino district who saw disruptions during a similar safety protocol fight last year, a 2019 strike and a one-day work stoppage in 2016.

The union wants the option to revert to remote instruction across the roughly 350,000-student district, and most members have refused to teach in-person until there’s an agreement, or the latest COVID-19 spike subsides. But Chicago leaders reject districtwide remote learning, saying it’s detrimental to students and that schools are safe. Instead, Chicago opted to cancel classes just two days after students returned from winter break.

Parents and advocacy groups stepped up calls Monday for quicker action in the dispute where both sides have already submitted complaints to a state labor board.

A group of parents on the city’s West Side — near the intersection of largely Black and Latino neighborhoods — demanded students get back to class immediately.

Cheri Warner, the mother of 15-year-old twins, said the sudden loss of in-person learning has taken a toll on her family.

One of her daughters has depression and anxiety, and winter is always difficult. Losing touch with her friends and teachers adds to that burden, Warner said.

The girls “missed their whole eighth grade year and it felt like they weren’t really prepared for high school,” Warner said. “They’re all trying to figure out how to catch up and it’s a really stressful situation.”

Other parents said the district needs to do more

Angela Spencer, an organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and a nurse, said she’s concerned about her two kids’ safety in schools. Spencer, who said she works as a nurse, said her kids’ schools weren’t adequately cleaned before the pandemic and she has “no confidence” in the district’s protocols now.

At the same time, seven families, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures, while more than 5,000 others have signed a petition urging a return to in-person instruction.

District officials, who call the union action “an illegal stoppage” have kept buildings open for student meal pickup and said that schools with enough staff can open their doors to students. Some teachers have shown up; district officials estimated about 15% of teachers did so Friday.

By Monday, it appeared that at least one school, Mount Greenwood Elementary, was able to open. Parents at the largely white school on the city’s southwest side expressed relief.

City officials argue that schools are safe with protocols in place. School leaders have touted a $100 million safety plan, including air purifiers in each classroom. Roughly 91% of staff are vaccinated and masks are required indoors.

President Joe Biden, who has pressed for schools to stay open, has remained in touch with Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health, told a City Council committee that data still suggests schools aren’t significant sources of transmission, calling it an “answered question in public health across this country.”

“I think people have this sense that like as soon as one person is in school with COVID, the entire classroom gets COVID or the entire school gets COVID,” Arwady said. “It is just not what we see.”

Since the start of the academic year, some classrooms have temporarily switched to remote instruction when there are infections. But in rejecting a wide-scale return to remote learning, city health officials argue most students directed to quarantine because of possible classroom exposure don’t get COVID-19. The district is piloting a “test to stay” program to cut isolation times.

Union officials have argued the safety measures fall short amid record-breaking COVID-19 cases and the district has botched testing and a database tracking infections.

This story has been corrected to show the mother of 15-year-old twins is called Cheri Warner, not Cherie.


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India boosts military presence as
border talks with China remain stalled


On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0003

A close-up of a heliport under construction in Rutog County.

0001

On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0004

Construction crews are now scattered around Ladakh as Indian authorities speed up their infrastructure race with China.

0005

An overview of a heliport under construction near Aksai Chin Lake, in a region administered by China but contested by India, on May 28.

0002

An overview of a heliport under construction in Rutog County in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, on Nov. 28.

0003 0001 0004 0005 0002

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Runway

Runway

China is expanding the construction of its facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. Provided by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), this June 28, 2015 photo reveals Beijing has nearly completed a 3,000 meter (9,800-foot) airstrip, long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft. Two h...

Expansion

Expansion

Reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of the Spratly Islands, began in August of 2014 and its principal landmass was finished by November. Dredgers have created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.

Facilities

Facilities

This picture taken last November shows construction work being carried out on Fiery Cross Reef. The reef reportedly already houses a helicopter landing pad, a 300-meter-long wharf, a harbor large enough to dock military tankers, barracks and artillery emplacements.

South Johnson Reef

South Johnson Reef

This reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. This recent picture shows that a radar tower is nearing completion at the north end of the land mass. According to AMTI, a new large multi-level military facility has been built in the center of the island. Up to six sur...

A naval base?

A naval base?

Beginning in early 2015, Mischief Reef - also located in the Spratlys - has undergone extensive reclamation activity. Experts say that the recent widening of the southern entrance to the reef, coupled with sightings of Chinese navy vessels, may suggest a future role for the reclaimed reef as a naval...

From reef to island

From reef to island

Significant construction on Gaven Reef began in 2014, with a total of 114,000 square meters of land already created. Satellite pictures show just how fast construction has progressed on the reef. A new artificial island was created between March (left) and August (right) 2014.

Troop garrison

Troop garrison

According to AMTI, China has had a troop garrison on Gaven Reef since 2003, which has included a large supply platform where ships can dock. Experts say a new main square building in the reef appears to be an anti-aircraft tower.

A standardized process

A standardized process

As seen in this image, the basic process of expanding these features involves dredging sand from the seafloor and dumping it onto the reefs. The structure is raised above the high water line, hiding the status of the bank or reef beneath. The sand is then smoothed out and workers surround the island...

'Historic rights'

'Historic rights'

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was "creating a great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijin...

Territorial disputes

Territorial disputes

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China's deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-C...

US concerns

US concerns

Washington is concerned China's efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine the US' naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the new artificial islands. Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing and ...

Ecological impact

Ecological impact

The Philippines filed a formal plea at the UN last year, challenging Beijing's territorial claims. Manila said China's reclamation activities are causing "irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea." It also claimed that the destruction of co...

Runway Expansion Facilities South Johnson Reef A naval base? From reef to island Troop garrison A standardized process 'Historic rights' Territorial disputes US concerns Ecological impact

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