Chicago Public Schools officials late Tuesday canceled classes for Wednesday, citing a vote by the Chicago Teachers Union to switch to remote learning amid a surge of COVID-19 cases tied to the Omicron variant.
The union said 73 percent of its members approved the motion to switch to remote learning until COVID-19 "cases substantially subside" or union leaders and the school district approve an agreement for safety protocols. "This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety," the Chicago Teachers Union said.
The school district characterized the move as a "walkout" and "illegal work stoppage," and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested teachers who did not show up to work would be placed on "no pay status," The Associated Press reports.
Most schools are reopening as planned after the winter break, but some districts have postponed the return to school due to the Omicron surge or icy weather. President Biden urged schools to stay open earlier on Tuesday, and New York Times columnist David Leonhardt dedicated his Tuesday morning newsletter to all the reasons pandemic-tied school closures have been really bad for children.
In Chicago, the teachers union and school district have been sparring over the proper protocols to put in place to keep students, staff, and teachers safe. Chicago Public Schools said it offered teachers 200,000 KN95 masks, a return to daily screen questionnaires, and metrics for closing individual schools. The teachers union said it is reviewing the offer but received it only "minutes" before its news conference on the remote learning vote.
It isn't clear yet what will happen with the school schedule after Wednesday.