The Chicago Teachers Union on Monday organized a car caravan to shut down traffic around City Hall to protest the school district locking teachers out of online platforms that allow them to teach remotely.
The caravan came as an ongoing standoff between CTU and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot over COVID-19 protocols stretched into its second week.
Just two days after students returned to school from winter break, CTU voted to return to remote instruction on its own and most union members stayed out of schools, saying they would return when there’s a deal or when the latest surge of COVID-19 infections subsides.
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CTU said on Sunday that it would “send a message the mayor can’t ignore” if teachers were locked out again Monday.
“[W]e will use our lunch and prep time to have car caravans convening across the city,” CTU said in a press release. “We converge on City Hall so the mayor and all of Chicago knows that our pursuit of safety continues.”
Footage of the caravan shared on Twitter shows a line of cars congesting a street in downtown Chicago Monday afternoon. A cacophony of horns can be heard as the cars inch down the street.
Madeleine Dupree, who shared the video, wrote in a follow-up post that the caravan had remained for at least two hours.
“[T]his union shows UP for our students, our community + each other,” she wrote.
Classes for hundreds of thousands of students were canceled for a fourth day after CTU and district representatives spent the weekend negotiating but failed to agree on the terms of teachers returning to the classroom.
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CTU President Jesse Sharkey said union and district representatives negotiated until 10 p.m. Sunday but “remain apart on a number of key features” that teachers want before returning to classrooms, including a testing program and triggers to close a school for in-person instruction due to an outbreak.
Sharkey accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of refusing to compromise on teachers’ main priorities and said union leadership can’t go back to members with what the mayor’s team has offered so far.
“The mayor is being relentless but she’s being relentlessly stupid, she’s being relentlessly stubborn,” he said during a Monday news conference. “She’s relentlessly refusing to seek accommodation and we’re trying to find a way to get people back in school.”
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Lightfoot on Sunday accused teachers of abandoning their students by refusing to teach in-person.
The union wants the option to revert to remote instruction across the 350,000-student district, and most members have refused to teach in-person until there’s an agreement, or the latest COVID-19 spike subsides. But Chicago leaders reject districtwide remote learning, saying it’s detrimental to students and that schools are safe. Instead, Chicago opted to cancel classes just two days after students returned from winter break.
The tone of Lightfoot and CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez’s Sunday evening statement suggested more progress than on Saturday when, shortly after the union made its latest offer public, they said, “CTU leadership, you’re not listening” and vowed not to “relent.” The offer she rejected included teachers reporting to schools Monday to distribute laptops for remote learning to temporarily start Wednesday.
Union leaders have accused Lightfoot of bullying, saying that while in-person instruction is better, the pandemic has forced difficult decisions.
“The mayor’s saying she’s going to be relentless in prosecuting a case, but the mayor’s not a prosecutor and I’m not a criminal being prosecuted,” Sharkey said. “Our members are not people who have done anything wrong.”
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Since the start of the academic year, some individual classrooms have temporarily switched to remote instruction when there are infections. But in rejecting a widescale return to remote learning, city health officials argue that most students directed to quarantine because of possible classroom exposure don’t get COVID-19. The district is piloting a “test to stay” program to cut isolation times.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.