There is much controversy surrounding opening up or closing schools. Thus far it’s been up to individual state governors to determine the best route to pursue, despite the overall majority of health officials having said it’s okay to keep them open, provided specific guidelines are followed.
But this isn’t sitting too well with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) who recently filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board in their attempts to further delay schools in the city from re-opening.
The union claims there have not been enough negotiations for constructing the safest way for students and teachers to return, and they aren’t having it. They further claim that the Chicago Board of Education (CBE) completely ignored the dangers of the pandemic when they recklessly ordered schools to reopen in January.
Janice Jackson, chief of the CBE, addressed the claims in a radio interview. “The question of whether students should be in school—we’re past that point. The mayor, the board, many of the leaders of CPS [Chicaco Public Schools], many parents feel like we need to be back in school.”
School district leaders have made it abundantly clear how students are lagging behind as a result of remote learning. They have also raised the issue of public health data pointing to low rates of transmissions in schools.
In the words of Chicago’s Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwardy, “We don’t see outbreaks associated with schools. I don’t see them being significant sources of spread and in that context, we are really excited about being able to start bringing some students back.”
Arwardy’s remarks are in line with the White House Coronavirus Taskforce which consists of the nation’s leading healthcare experts. In their view, it is perfectly safe to resume in-person teaching.
The head leader of the CDC, Dr, Robert Redfield, said in November that there was enough evidence to conclude that schools do not need to remain closed.
“Back in the spring, there was limited data,” said Redfield. “Today, there’s extensive data that we’ve gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K–12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning, and they can do it safely, and they can do it responsibly.”
He continued with, “The truth is for kids K through 12, one of the safest [places] they can be from our perspective is to remain in school, making sure we don’t make emotional decisions about what to close and what not to close.”
In the filed complaint from the teachers union, the authority of the CBE was challenged. The union said they haven’t the right to order teachers and staff members to head back to their abandoned classrooms.
“The CBE’s authority to take such unilateral action rests upon a slender reed: the claim that the CBE’s right to determine ‘places of instruction’ includes the right to unilaterally put its teachers and staff into danger without meaningful bargaining,” reads the complaint.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey claims the school district “has stonewalled us for months as we’ve been trying to bargain enforceable safety standards for our district-run schools. We want our schools open as well, but we want it done safely, and not on the backs of the majority Black and Latinx students we serve.”
The union wants the district to ramp up safety protocols. They’ve demanded that a nurse be assigned to every school as well as providing protective equipment. They are calling for smaller classrooms and are adamant about providing COVID-19 screening, testing, contact tracing, and vaccination resources. As a further step, they say schools need to provide “social and emotional supports for traumatized students, and true upgrades to make ventilation safe.”
The complaint has yet to be settled so there’s no telling which way it’ll go. But, if the White House says it’s okay to open them up, the Teachers Union is in for a losing battle.