The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates voted to end a work shutdown and return to classes on Wednesday, January 12. The proposal still needs to be voted on by union members, sometime this week.

Of the 25,000 CTU members, 73% voted last week “to refuse orders to work in person, opting for remote work only,” as we reported in The Daily Citizen.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the plan approved by the CTU House of Delegates “will set conditions by which an individual school would return to remote learning, determined by the rate of staff absences and students in quarantine or isolation, as well as whether it’s during a period of high community COVID-19 transmission, where a lower threshold would apply.”

Meaning local schools could again close if they have a high rate of COVID infections.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot had been critical of the shutdown of in-person learning, calling it an “illegal work stoppage” and an “unlawful, unilateral strike.”

She applauded the recent agreement, saying “No one wins when our students are out of the place where they can learn the best and where they’re safest.”

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates complained that the teachers union, rather than the city, was doing what was necessary “to create the infrastructure for safety and accountability in our school community.”

A July 2021 report from McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm, highlighted the importance of in-person learning for most students. The report said, “Our analysis shows that the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year.”

They reported that elementary schools that were majority black or Hispanic, lower income schools, and city schools fared even worse – with up to 6 or seven months of “unfinished learning.”

The report also noted the harms of school shutdowns to students in other areas. Some students had family members die from or with COVID, while others had caregivers who lost jobs, and “almost all experienced social isolation.”

From a survey of 16,370 parents, McKinsey reported, “Roughly 80 percent of parents had some level of concern about their child’s mental health or social and emotional health and development since the pandemic began.”

“Parents also report increases in clinical mental health conditions among their children, with a five-percentage-point increase in anxiety and a six-percentage-point increase in depression. They also report increases in behaviors such as social withdrawal, self-isolation, lethargy, and irrational fears,” the survey found.

They noted other long-term effects of students falling behind, such as increased absenteeism and higher dropout rates. This causes students to abandon pursuit of further education, leading to lower lifetime earnings.

While Chicago was negotiating with the CTU, other cities and states have taken a different route to keep students in school and deal with learning loss from school closures. Arizona, for example, has an “Open for Learning Recovery Benefit” program “to provide relief for parents who may face financial and educational barriers due to unexpected school closures.”

Students and families who meet certain income requirement may apply – even if a school closes for only one day. “The program funds up to $7,000 for needs related to Arizona Department of Economic Security approved child care, school-coordinated transportation, online tutoring and school tuition.”

Related articles and resources:

Chicago Public Schools Cancels All Classes Over Covid. Keep the Schools Open!

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Blasts CDC Guidelines on Reopening Schools as a ‘Disgrace’

McKinsey and Company: COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning

Senators Urge CDC to Help Reopen Schools, Warn of Harmful Effects of School Closures


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