CHICAGO: Chicago teachers have voted in favour of a resolution to stay out of their classrooms in the third-largest school system in the United States, claiming the district has not done enough to keep them and their students safe amid the pandemic.
A total of 71 per cent of teachers who cast a vote on the measure were in favour of not returning to their classrooms and to continue to teach remotely, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) said in a statement announcing the results on Sunday.
"The overwhelming majority of you have chosen safety," the union said in the statement to its 25,000 rank-and-file members who work for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
About 85 per cent of CTU members voted on the measure from Thursday through Saturday, the union said.
"CPS did everything possible to divide us by instilling fear through threats of retaliation, but you still chose unity, solidarity and to collectively act as one," the union statement said.
The results came just a day before about 10,000 educators were scheduled to report to work at their schools on Monday to prepare for classes for 70,000 elementary and middle school students who are scheduled to be back in their classrooms on Feb 1 after they opted to take some of their classes in-person and the reminder online.
On Sunday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said in a letter to the school community that the district has agreed to a request from CTU to push back the return of K-8 teachers and staff to Wednesday.
"We now agree on far more than we disagree, but our discussions remain ongoing, and additional time is needed to reach a resolution," she said, noting that both sides were at the bargaining table over the weekend.
On Friday, Jackson warned that if educators do not show up for work, it would constitute an illegal strike.
The possible work action in Chicago comes 15 months after the city's teachers went on strike for 11 days during a bitter labour dispute over overcrowded classrooms and support staff levels and pay.
The vast majority of the Chicago's teachers have been teaching the system's 355,000 students remotely since last spring when the spread of the virus forced the district to close schools.
Since then, the CTU has insisted that the Chicago schools lack proper ventilation, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to justify reopening.
It also claims CPS lacks adequate safety protocols even as the school system has urged moving "swiftly" to vaccinate teachers, who are expected to begin to get shots in mid-February.
Public school teachers across the nation have voiced similar concerns, urging their districts not to reopen until they have more thorough plans to protect them and students.
Jackson said public health officials agree schools can reopen safely with mitigation strategies in place. She added the district has invested US$100 million and "countless hours of planning" to ensure the school communities are safe.
Earlier this month, CPS began implementing its reopening plan, allowing for 6,500 pre-kindergarten and special education students to attend in-person class.
A third of the 3,800 teachers and paraprofessionals initially did not show up for work. As of Jan. 15, 87 of those educators remained locked out of their virtual classrooms for failing to report, according to the district.
The district has yet to announce when high school students will have the option to return to school buildings.