The author is a member of Chicago Teachers Union and Reds in Ed.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot loomed large behind Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson as she addressed the media on Dec. 4, 2020. The topic: when will teachers and students be returning to schools? Jackson spoke in no uncertain terms: teachers who continue to work remotely after their mandatory return date will be fired.
That was over a month ago. On Jan. 4, school clerks, cluster teachers, and pre-kindergarten teachers were told to report to work. They return to unclean, unventilated schools in which it is impossible to socially distance. Instead of offering flexibility and accommodations for those with legitimate health concerns, CPS rejected hundreds of teachers’ official requests to continue to work remotely. Teachers are scared. Those who used a contractually given sick day on Jan. 4 woke up to a message from CPS saying, “Your absence was not authorized and you must begin reporting to work in-person tomorrow.”
In this climate of intimidation, political winds might be shifting. Thirty-two alderwomen and aldermen recently signed a letter to mayor Lightfoot saying that they were “deeply concerned” about the mayor’s return plan. Citing a December survey commissioned by the Chicago Teachers Union and conducted by Lake Research Partners, the alderwomen and aldermen noted how the Black and Brown working class of Chicago unequivocally agrees that it is too soon to open schools. 68 percent of Latino voters, 62 percent of Black voters, and 57 percent of white voters have called for a metrics-based return plan based on a 3 percent positivity threshold. That means that the majority of Chicagoans do not support the mayor’s reckless push to reopen schools.
The situation in Chicago continues to develop. CTU has notified members about the potential for a protest action on Jan. 8. The methods of struggle are still undetermined since the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, which is staffed by conservative appointees of former billionaire Republican governor Bruce Rauner, denied a preliminary injunction filed by the CTU to prevent teachers from returning to work on the Jan. 4.
Feature image: Chicago teachers teaching remotely from outside their school in protest of the order to return. Liberation screen shot of video by Jhoanna Maldonado, found on Bad Ass Teachers Association Facebook page.