Omicron variant, vaccines and other Covid-19 news: live updates
Parents in Chicago rushed to find daycare on Wednesday as a labor dispute between the city and its teachers’ union closed classrooms in America’s third-largest public school system, two days after the students return from winter vacation.
The union, whose members voted by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday night to stop showing up in school buildings, accused the school system of spoiling its response to the Omicron variant, which is causing a record spate of coronavirus cases in the city.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted the city’s classrooms were safe, accused teachers of engaging in an illegal work stoppage, and refused to allow classes to switch to teaching in distance, which the union suggested.
The fight has left parents like Tonya Patterson with few good options. Ms Patterson, a bank teller, was one of a handful of parents who dropped off a child at Ellington Elementary on the town’s West Side, where employees who were not part of the teachers’ professional action were providing services emergency care.
“I have to get to work and I haven’t had time to have a babysitter,” Ms. Patterson said. “These teachers just said last night that they weren’t coming.”
Ms. Patterson blamed both sides for the discord. The results of the union vote were not announced until after 10 p.m. Tuesday, and the school system did not confirm the cancellation of classes until after 11 p.m.
“I understand they want to be safe, but I have to work,” Ms. Patterson said. “I don’t understand why they are so special.”
Ms Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union have clashed several times since taking office in 2019. Union president Jesse Sharkey said the school system needs more robust coronavirus testing to make teachers feel safe. return security. He called for testing all students before classrooms reopen, as well as stepping up monitoring testing after that. “If you want to get us back to the schools faster, do some testing,” he said.
Mr Sharkey said he hoped to reach an agreement with the city and expected negotiations to resume on Wednesday afternoon.
Ms Lightfoot accused the union of creating unnecessary hardship for parents and defended the school system’s efforts to secure classrooms. Members of his administration accused the union of ignoring research findings that children were less likely than adults to become seriously ill from Covid-19.
“Nobody registers as a home student at the last minute,” the mayor said Tuesday evening, shortly before the results of the union vote were announced. “We cannot forget how disruptive this remote process is for parents who have to work, who cannot afford the luxury of staying at home. “
President Biden wants schools to remain open, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about Chicago on Wednesday. “We know they can be safely opened and we’re here to help make it happen.”
Still, many people in the city have expressed concern about children attending school in person at a time when coronavirus cases are on the rise in the city.
In a West Side grocery store Wednesday morning. Karen Washington had her 6 year old granddaughter with her because the girl’s parents were working. Ms Washington, whose granddaughter would normally have been in her first-grade class at that time, said she supports the teachers’ action.
“Children don’t know how to socially distance themselves,” Ms. Washington said. “They play and come over and take off their masks.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reports.