Chicago Mayor Lightfoot slams teachers' union for 'illegal walk-out,' rejects proposal for remote learning

Chicago parents sue teachers union over school closures

Chicago mother Ammie Kessem and Liberty Justice Center Sr. Attorney Jeff Schwab discuss the lawsuit which claims the school closures in Chicago were a result of an illegal strike.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot again lambasted the city’s teachers’ union Sunday for refusing to show up for classes after she rejected a proposal to resume remote learning instead of getting kids back into schools. 

As no agreement for a return to in-person instruction has been reached, Lightfoot criticized the Chicago Teacher’s Union during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday.

“Fundamentally what we cannot do is abandon the science. We know that the safest place for kids to be is in-person learning in schools,” Lightfoot told host Chuck Todd. “And we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make our schools safe. They are safe. We’ve got the data to demonstrate that. We’ve gotta get the teacher’s union to get real and get serious about getting back into in-person learning.”

“To be clear, what the Chicago Teacher’s Union did was an illegal walk-out. They abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families,” the mayor continued. “My team has been working every single day. They’re back at it again here Sunday.” 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown at City Hall on April 15, 2021. 
(Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“We’re working like the dickens to make sure we get a deal done today,” Lightfoot responded, when asked directly if schools would resume Monday morning. “So I remain hopeful”

Lightfoot said she’s seen “an unprecedented level of parent activism all in support of return to in-person learning” in reaction to the recent walk-out compared to past action taken by the teachers’ union. 

“Parents are outraged, and they are making their outrage known to the teacher’s union. This is a very different dynamic than ever before,” Lightfoot said, pointing to how 70% or more of our kids in the school district qualify for free or reduced lunch. The mayor argued that shows how many children live in households which are poor and working class, many with single parents and mostly women of color. 

“We’ve got an enormous amount of parent activism. They are writing letters, emails, they are protesting, they are holding press conferences,” Lightfoot said. “This walkout by the teacher’s union, which is illegal, has had cascading ripple effects not only on the students in their learning and their social and emotional welfare but also on the families themselves.” 

“This is an untenable situation and completely and utterly avoidable,” the mayor added. “I’m going to be on the side of the parents fighting every single day to get our kids back in school.” 

About 92% of teachers and staff in the district are vaccinated, Lightfoot said. 

Lightfoot and her team rejected a revised proposal from the union Saturday that would have required all students to produce negative tests before returning to the classroom. The union said teachers were willing to return to school buildings on Monday, though not for in-person instruction. 

Former teacher Tara Stamps speaks ahead of a car caravan where teachers and supporters gathered to demand a safe and equitable return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago, IL on December 12, 2020. Select Chicago public schools teachers are expected to return to classrooms on January 4th, 2021. (Photo by Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
((Photo by Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images))

The nation’s third-largest school district saw hundreds of thousands of students out of class for three days last week after teachers refused to report for duty due to concerns over the omicron variant. 

Lightfoot said her office sent the Chicago’s Teacher Union a school-based metric on Tuesday – before the union workers walked out. They rejected it without detailed explanation, Lightfoot said. 

The mayor’s team turned around a point-by-point response Saturday night that deals with school metrics, testing and a number of other issues they don’t have disagreement on, Lightfoot said. The biggest issue is remote testing and remote learning, which Lightfoot’s office categorically rejects. 

“We haven’t sat idly by and let COVID ravage through our schools,” Lightfoot said. “When there’s been a necessity to shut down a classroom or shut down a school, we’ve done that.” 

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker secured a deal Saturday making available 350,000 rapid antigen tests available for purchase by Chicago Public Schools. Lightfoot said the city’s public health director also found additional tests and has made the teachers’ union aware as negotiations continue. The mayor said school testing needs the cooperation of the union, which has not allowed school nurses to be activated.

Lightfoot said the district has seen 52 outbreaks, categorized as two or more cases, but out of that amount has seen an average of 2.5 kids who test positive as cases believed to be related to schools.

“We’re following the science. What I won’t do is allow the teachers’ union to politicize this surge or the pandemic in general,” Lightfoot said. “People are nervous, they are scared. We get that. But the thing to do is to lean into the facts and the science and not abandon them in a panic.” 

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