Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates Votes for Distance Learning; CPS CEO Martinez says schools will be open, but classes will be canceled if vote becomes final

CHICAGO (CBS) – A total of 88% of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted Tuesday night to move to distance learning for Chicago public schools amid a wave of COVID-19 .

The union said out of 632 delegates, 88 percent voted yes and 12 percent voted no, or 555-77. Electronic voting for all union members is open until 9 p.m.

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CPS Director General Pedro Martinez said if CTU finally voted for distance learning and did not return, schools would be open but there would be no classes.

Martinez said teachers, staff and students are welcome to come to classrooms – but if teachers vote for distance learning, classes will be canceled.

“If they vote to take a walkout tomorrow, I have to cancel classes,” Martinez said. “I am not closing schools. Schools will be open. And again, all the staff will be welcome to come to the school as we are going to have a plan for our families. I’m not going to let our parents down.

Martinez added “we will have a plan tomorrow. We will create a plan that is best for the family and the students and that is based on nothing else. And so what I can commit to the families is that if they take steps to take a walkout, I have to cancel classes tomorrow. I’m sorry about this. You will have a plan tomorrow, we will see how we go forward.

CPS officials said a CTU vote to allow teachers to work remotely from Wednesday would amount to an illegal strike.

“A vote to stop reporting for work would cause profound damage to children’s learning and health and be another damaging blow to the well-being of our students and their families,” CPS said in a statement. .

Martinez said he understands why parents can be uncomfortable sending children to school, with the Omicron wave of COVID.

“I respect the families who said yesterday, ‘You know, I’m a little scared. So CEO, if you don’t mind, we’ll babysit our kids at home. You know, I can work with these families, can’t I? Said Martinez. “We can work with them, but not to give them a choice. I’m sorry, I don’t think that’s fair.

But Martinez also said he was frustrated with the amount of “misinformation” being spread about the safety of school buildings.

“At this point the misinformation and anxiety is so high and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I was visiting schools and wanted to get a feel for it myself. What I have been seen. And like I said, in some schools it’s just at an extreme level that there’s no logic behind it. There is no science behind it, ”Martinez said.

As the Omicron push takes hold of Chicago, Martinez and Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr Allison Arwady said students need to be in school because it’s a very busy space. sure.

“We need the children to get immunized, but I remain extremely comfortable with children continuing their education in person,” said Arwady.

Martinez presented his proposal to CTU, which includes a grade level metric by which individual schools could switch to distance learning, as well as a return to daily health checkups and temperature checks for schools that do so. wish.

“COVID is the enemy – not CTU, not us,” Martinez said.

In a tweet, CTU responded, saying the counter-proposal was only communicated to them “eight minutes before this press conference.” But the union said it plans to meet with the mayor’s bargaining team on Tuesday afternoon.

“Until we do that – draw a line in the snow – then they react,” Chicago Teachers Union vice president Stacy Davis Gates said on Monday.

Martinez said he applauded the way the city had prepared schools for the return of students after the holidays.

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“There was a big decision to invest in schools in filtration systems. There was a big decision to have masks available for each child for each staff member. It was a great decision to prioritize vaccinations for a staff and ask every step of the way to get vaccinated. All of these decisions pay off. No deal was ever needed. I think the challenge I would want if I had a magic wand, I wish we all provided good information to families, ”Martinez said.

Martinez would not directly identify CTU as a source of misinformation, but said some of this misinformation focuses on schools being unsafe.

“The biggest misinformation I see right now that I can tell you are complete myths about our schools, our schools being dangerous. completeness, that we are seeing high completion levels across the school and in all classrooms, ”Martinez said.

Meanwhile, in an independent press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Lightfoot highlighted the damage caused by sending the entire school system to distance learning. She noted that the city has paid more than $ 100 million in mitigation measures such as ventilation and HEPA filters in classrooms, masks and other safety protocols.

The last time Chicago public schools went to distance learning, the mayor said, “What we saw was 100,000 kids – especially black and brown kids – who were out of touch with the system. and learning “. Mayor Lightfoot also said the CPS saw a threefold increase in failure scores among elementary school students during distance learning the last time around.

Mayor Lightfoot added that distance learning also resulted in “socio-emotional trauma” as students were disconnected from their social networks which “keep them mentally and emotionally healthy”.

“The worst thing we can do is shut down the whole system,” said Mayor Lightfoot.

Rather than an “illegal work stoppage,” the mayor said, the focus should be on vaccinating children against COVID-19. She said calls for distance learning appear to ignore the fact that a vaccine is available for COVID-19 now, when it was not in the last long pandemic distance learning period. .

“Why the hell, when we don’t need to stop, would we stop and risk falling back into the same trap?” Said Lightfoot. “The achievement gaps are real and they are affecting children of color at an exponential rate. “

Lightfoot said she and Dr Arwady “are looking at the science” in regards to the response to COVID-19. Without naming the Chicago Teachers Union in this case, she said the calls to close schools are rooted in “fear and hysteria.”

But CPS parent Sharon Winkfield said children should learn from a distance with the increase in COVID-19 cases. Winkfield also said distance learning shouldn’t mean a student’s attendance record is affected.

“Why do our families have to choose between being marked absent and bringing their child to school when this disease is rampant? Said Winkfield. “To ask us to choose between punishment and safety – please. I mean, we love our kids and we want them to stay alive. We want them to be here. We want them to get a good education, but they can’t do it if they’re dead.

On Tuesday, Dr Arwady said the high number of COVID cases in the city was alarming.

“We continue to be in the very high transmission category for cases now averaging over 4,500 per day. We also have a 23.6% test positivity in the city of Chicago, ”said Arwady. “The news is not good. Chicago’s COVID case rate is the highest since the start of the pandemic. “

Dr Arwady added that the best defense against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant is to get vaccinated. She said she too hears a lot of misinformation regarding children and COVID infections.

“One of the things I hear the most misinformation about is that Chicago hospitals are filling up with children, that many children in Chicago are dying from COVID, that it’s a really scary time to be a child in this moment with COVID in Chicago. And I want you to understand that, of course, we are concerned about the increase in hospitalizations caused by unvaccinated adults, ”Arwady said. “Hospitalizations of COVID children remain very rare across the city, around 550,000 children. We currently only have seven COVID hospitalizations per day for children aged zero to 17. “

Arwady said children 17 and under in Chicago were diagnosed with COVID-19 at a higher rate thanks to the holidays, but said hospitalizations for COVID children “remain very rare.”

“I just want to reassure you, especially if you are vaccinated; if your child is vaccinated, it behaves like the flu – and we don’t close school districts for an extended period of time because of the flu, ”Arwady said.

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Martinez said he asked the union to delay his vote. He said he’s still optimistic that the PSC and CTU can come to an agreement.

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