Chicago cancels public school classes after teachers’ union votes for remote learning amid Covid surge

Students leave Darwin Elementary in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, the first day back to school from winter break for Chicago Public Schools.

Brian Cassella | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Chicago public school leaders cancelled classes Wednesday, shutting more than 340,000 students out for the day, after the teachers’ union voted to switch back to remote learning amid a surge of Covid infections in the nation’s third largest city.

The Chicago public school system is the first of the largest districts in the nation to shut its doors amid the new Covid surge. New York City Mayor Eric Adams stressed earlier this week that schools would remain open. Los Angeles county schools have not returned to online learning, but ordered students and staff to test for the virus before returning from winter break.

However, districts in major cities such as Cleveland, Milwaukee and Atlanta have temporarily gone remote.

In Chicago, union members criticized the district’s response to the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus. In a release, the union argued that district officials “put the safety and vibrancy of our students and their educators in jeopardy.” Union members said testing resources are inadequate, calling on the mayor’s office to implement more safety measures to slow the spread of the virus.

But CPS officials fought back, saying the decision was unnecessary and disruptive to some families.

“Nobody signs up for being a home-schooler at the last minute,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press conference before the vote, calling the action an illegal work stoppage. “We can’t forget about how disruptive that remote process is to individual parents who have to work, who can’t afford the luxury of staying home.”

A spokesperson for the union did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Chicago press official said the city will share a new plan to continue with learning by the end of Wednesday.

The union’s vote comes as Covid infections hit all-time highs in Chicago. The city’s health department on Tuesday said Chicago was averaging more than 4,000 new cases per day. Hospitalizations were also up slightly from the prior week.

Since late August, nearly 5,000 students have tested positive for the virus, according to CPS. During the same period, 1,802 adult school employees also reported cases. The highest week for positive cases among students and adults was in December, according to data provided by the district.