Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest U.S. education district, will resume in-person classes on Wednesday after a union backed ending a walkout over COVID-19 fears in an agreement it said would boost safeguards.
Teachers began their action last week, idling some 340,000 students, following a union vote to reinstate virtual instruction and a push for more rigorous safety protocols, including wider testing, as the Omicron variant spread.
While most U.S. public school districts have reopened their campuses for the new year, education systems in some major cities have opted for online learning or delayed back-to-classroom plans due to staff shortages.
The United States reported at least 1.13 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, the highest daily total of any country in the world, but there are also fears over the impact on younger people’s schooling.
“Switching completely back to remote learning again without a public health reason to do so would have created and amplified the social, emotional and economic turmoil that far too many of our families are facing,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference.
The spat between Lightfoot and workers’ representatives saw her and the district brand the walkout an illegal work stoppage for which teachers’ pay will be docked.
The union had accused the mayor and school officials of “locking out” teachers by freezing their online instruction platforms, preventing a return to remote learning while the conflict is unresolved.
On Monday, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the deal was not ideal but made improvements.
“It’s not a perfect agreement,” he said during a news conference. “It does include some important things which are going to help safeguard ourselves and our schools.”