Chicago students return to class after agreement reached with teachers union

Students in nation's third-largest school district to resume in-person classes Wednesday following a standoff.

Students in the nation’s third-largest school district are returning to school in person on Wednesday, Jan. 12, after four days of canceled classes due to a standoff with the local teachers’ union. The standoff began because of rising coronavirus cases and other safety protocol issues.

As previously reported, 73% of Chicago teachers voted last Tuesday in favor of a resolution to work remotely instead of returning to in-person classes amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and their supporters participate in a car caravan around City Hall to protest against in-person learning in Chicago public schools on January 10, 2022, in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety,” the union said in a written statement released last week. “Let us be clear. The educators of this city want to be in their classrooms with their students. We believe that our city’s classrooms are where our students should be. Regrettably, the mayor and her [Chicago Public Schools] leadership have put the safety and vibrancy of our students and their educators in jeopardy.”

At a press conference later that night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that teachers who didn’t return to work would be placed in a “no pay” status, according to the Chicago Tribune. CPS responded by locking teachers out of their remote learning systems and by docking pay on Wednesday as well, according to Gizmodo.

Negotiations continued through the weekend, the union and district reached an agreement this week, and staff returned to their buildings today. 

In the new agreement, Chicago Public Schools “will significantly increase” testing in schools and make additional rapid tests available according to NBC News. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has pushed for the return to class saying that in-person learning “is far superior” to remote learning and that school is the safest place for students to be. 

Lori Lightfoot Is Sworn In As Chicago's First Female African American Mayor
Lori Lightfoot addresses guests after being sworn in as Mayor of Chicago during a ceremony at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on May 20, 2019. Lightfoot become the first black female and openly gay mayor in the city’s history. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“No parent should be forced to make the choice between earning an income to take care of their family, or being home to monitor their kids on remote learning,” Lightfoot said. “That is a choice we should never force parents into, absent an emergency that did not manifest itself this time.”

In the new deal with the union, there is also a commitment to provide high-quality masks and also provide metrics for when a school can go remote. According to Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, who spoke to NBC News, a school can switch to remote learning when 40% of its students are in isolation or quarantine. 

Sharkey added: “It’s not a perfect agreement, but it’s something that we can hold our heads up about.” 

A group of Chicago Public Schools parents sued the CTU, seeking an immediate return to in-person classes last week. They claimed that the union was engaged in an “illegal strike,” and implored a judge to immediately order teachers back to work, per WTTW

Chicago Public Schools has been plagued with issues during the pandemic, including a mass exodus of bus drivers after the district ordered a vaccine mandate. 

Have you subscribed to theGrio podcasts “Dear Culture” or “Acting Up?” Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Download today!