Chicago Teachers Union Votes To Defy School Reopening Plans, Demands Vaccinations Before Returning To Classrooms

(Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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Chicago Teachers Union members voted to defy Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plans, refusing to return to classrooms until teachers are vaccinated, numerous sources reported.

The school district, which is the nation’s third largest, was planning to welcome back roughly 70,000 students for part-time, in-person instruction on Feb. 1. However, the union opposed the plan, calling on its members to continue teaching from home despite the district’s reopening plan, the Associated Press reported.

Roughly 10,000 K-8 teachers and other staffers would have returned to classrooms Monday to prepare for the school’s reopening for students, after nearly a year of online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 86% of the union’s 25,000 rank-and-file members voted on the resolution, and 71% of those members approved the collective action to stay home, according to the Chicago Sun Times, which means 61% of members approved not returning to classrooms. 

The union claimed that returning to in-person instruction would be too risky for teachers who aren’t vaccinated, and argued that if the district tries to punish teachers who don’t return to the in-person instruction, then the district would be responsible for a work stoppage, the AP reported.

The district said that a union vote to disobey an order to return to classrooms Monday would violate a collective bargaining agreement approved after a 2019 strike, which prevents union members from striking and district officials from locking them out.

Janice Jackson, the district’s CEO, said that if the union refuses to return to the classroom Monday, “that constitutes a strike,” according to the Chicago Sun Times. It’s unclear whether the district will postpone its reopening plans.

The district said it would begin vaccinating teachers and staff beginning in mid-February, and that doing so would take months.

The union has previously criticized the district’s reopening plan as being insufficient in its “objective of increasing equity for students” and lack of safety measures implemented for a return. In early January, the union claimed that white students would benefit more from reopening, and that the quality of distance learning for predominantly minority students would subsequently suffer. However, less than one fourth of families surveyed said they would choose in-person learning if available. (RELATED: Chicago Schools Move Forward With Reopening Despite Teachers Union)

Protesters hold signs during the Occupy City Hall Protest and Car Caravan hosted by Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago, Illinois, on August 3, 2020. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Many of the nation’s largest public school districts have stalled their reopening plans despite data accumulated globally that has shown that infections did not surge when schools reopened. Even when community transmission was high, coronavirus outbreaks in schools were still uncommon especially if precautions were in place, according to Nature

Some of the districts that have yet to reopen classrooms have been involved in negotiations with teachers unions, many of which have made demands that they claim districts have not accommodated, preventing teachers from returning to classrooms. For example, the Washington Teachers’ Union backed out of at least two tentative agreements to return students to classrooms, making demands that went beyond those of the American Federation of Teachers, its national union, the Washington Post reported