Mayor Lori Lightfoot

On Sunday, the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, took another swipe at the teachers’ union of the city. They recently refused to show up for their assigned classes. This happened after they made a proposal to go back to remote learning instead of putting children back in physical schools. Lightfoot had rejected that proposal.

Without an agreement in place, the teachers of the city decided to walk out. Lightfoot appeared on “Meet the Press” on NBC to criticize them for doing this.

Mayor Lightfoot stated that she believed in science and that kids were the safest to learn in person in their actual schools instead of remotely. She pointed out how the city had spent several hundreds of millions in dollars to make schools safe during the pandemic, claiming data demonstrated all that was working. She implored teachers to wake up to the necessity of resuming in-person learning.

She went on to claim that their walkout was illegal, suggesting they had abandoned their professional responsibilities while also abandoning children and families.

The mayor also said that her team was working hard, even over the weekend, to try and nail down a deal that might let schools resume operations Monday morning. This was partly in response to previously unseen levels of parental activism supporting the return of students to learning in person.

She notes that many parents are simply outraged over what the teachers are doing, and she pointed out how the parents are making the teachers’ union aware of their outrage. Lightfoot noted how more than two-thirds of students in the Chicago school district typically qualify for reduced or free lunches. She says this illustrates how lots of children are currently residing in working-class homes or even in poverty. Many of these homes are single-parent households. Quite a few of them are women of color.

That parental activism is taking place through protests, press conferences, emails, and letters. Lightfoot claims the walkout has had ripple effects not just against student learning but also negative impacts on the emotional and social welfare of entire families. The mayor claims that over 90% of school district staff and teachers are vaccinated. Her team rejected a proposal requiring all students to have negative tests before coming back.

The union of the country’s third-biggest school district was willing to have teachers report for duty at schools but not for in-person learning. Concerns revolving around the omicron variant fueled this. Hundreds of thousands of school students had no class for multiple days last week because of teachers not reporting for work.

Lightfoot’s negotiating team had shared points that they and the union agree on. Remote learning and testing are the most divisive issues without agreement.

The governor of the state, J.B. Pritzker, has arranged for hundreds of thousands of rapid antigen tests to be available to the school system. The public health director for the city also had more tests available.

Mayor Lightfoot reports that the district has had over 50 outbreaks of multiple cases. However, school-related cases seem to average only 2.5 students.