CHICAGO (Reuters) – The governing body of the Chicago Teachers Union agreed on Monday to allow its 28,000 rank-and-file members to vote on a tentative deal with the third-largest U.S. school district to gradually reopen classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the union’s 600-member House of Delegates also overwhelmingly passed a resolution of “no confidence” against Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago School District leaders with whom the teachers have clashed over coronavirus safety, the union announced on Twitter.
The union-wide vote was expected to begin on Tuesday. If ratified, a “framework” reopening plan announced by the mayor on Sunday after months of talks would begin phasing in a return to classroom instruction for 67,000 of the district’s 355,000 students on Thursday.
Despite lingering rancor over the compromise, the plan would avert a threatened lockout by the school district or a strike by teachers, who have demanded stronger anti-infection protocols in classrooms.
Philadelphia’s education district moved to avoid a confrontation with its teachers by agreeing to let a mediator decide when school buildings could safely reopen, rather than press ahead with ordering teachers to return to classrooms on Monday under threat of disciplining those who failed to show up.
Pressure to reopen or expand in-person learning for students has been building across the United States in recent weeks as the impact of remote learning on education and family life becomes more apparent. The debate over how and when to safely reopen has become heated in many school districts.
“We’ll get there,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote on Twitter. “But we need the resources, the plan and roadmap, and the basic safety precautions we’ve been asking for since April.”
The push coincides with a sharp decline in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations since early January after an alarming year-end surge that pushed many healthcare systems to their limits. Some 81,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized on Sunday, the lowest daily total since Nov. 20, according to a Reuters tally.
VACCINATIONS URGED FOR TEACHERS
Philadelphia teachers say their school district needs to improve ventilation systems and classroom safety and make teacher vaccinations a priority. Mayor Jim Kenney on Monday announced a plan to inoculate educators, starting at the end of February.
In Los Angeles, where political leaders have sparred with school district officials and the teachers’ union over the need to reopen classrooms quickly, Superintendent Austin Beutner on Monday said vaccinations were a precondition.
“Make schools a priority and reduce the level of COVID-19 in LA to meet the state requirements,” Beutner said on Twitter in the form of a “to-do list” to get schools in the nation’s second-largest school district reopened within 60 days.
“Provide vaccinations to 25,000 school teachers, principals, bus drivers, custodians and librarians,” he added.
Los Angeles City councilman Joe Buscaino last week suggested that the city take legal action to force classrooms to reopen over the objection of the United Teachers Los Angeles union.
Buscaino said on Monday the district could reopen classrooms at 25% capacity for students who were struggling at home.
“There are tens of thousands of vulnerable families in desperate need of help. This is not an all or nothing situation. We have to do what we can for those students,” he said.
The councilman said some desperate Los Angeles parents had already begun enrolling their children in neighboring districts or private schools.
President Joe Biden on Sunday described school closures and their negative impact on families as a national emergency. Leading health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control, have said there is little evidence that the virus is spread in classrooms.
In Michigan, more than 350 doctors and psychologists urged the resumption of in-person classes in Ann Arbor by March 1.
In New York City, in-person classes in the nation’s largest public school system will resume for middle-school students on Feb. 25. About half of the city’s 471 middle schools will offer five-day-a-week classroom learning with the remainder working toward that goal, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press briefing.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Rosalba O’Brien and Cynthia Osterman)