Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Sunday ripped the teachers union for staging an “illegal walkout,” saying it abandoned the city’s school children by voting last week to return to online instruction.
Lightfoot said she’s “doing everything I can to make sure” students return to the classroom.
“What the Chicago Teachers Union did was an illegal walkout. They abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families,” she said Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
Negotiations between city school officials and the Chicago Teachers Union continued during the weekend over coronavirus safety procedures with the union’s latest proposal keeping children out of the classroom until Jan. 18.
In the interview, Lightfoot urged the union to come to an agreement and allow the city’s 350,000 students to return to school.
“Our team has been working every single day, they’re at – back at it again here Sunday. They were at it yesterday. And we can get a deal done if there’s goodwill on both sides. But fundamentally what we cannot do is abandon the science,” she said.
“We know that the safest place for kids to be is in-person learning in schools, and we’ve spent millions – hundreds of millions of dollars to make our schools safe. They are safe. We’ve got the data to demonstrate that. We’ve got to get the teachers union to get real and get serious about getting back into in-person learning,” Lightfoot continued.
The union has proposed resuming remote instruction on Wednesday and in-person instruction on Jan. 18.
It also supports a random screening program that students could opt out of.
“We’d like to see the mayor make a compromise as well,” union President Jesse Sharkey told the Associated Press on Saturday. “I mean what the mayor is essentially offering instead is no instruction in schools at all, no services.”
Lightfoot said the sticking point in the talks is the insistence on remote learning, which she said “we categorically reject.”
“We haven’t sat idly by and let COVID rage through our schools. When there’s been a necessity to shut down a classroom or shut down a school, to go to remote learning, we’ve done that,” she said.
Lightfoot also said the statistics show that schools are not a major source of transmissions.
“We’re following the science. And what I won’t do is allow the teachers union to politicize this surge or the pandemic in general. People are nervous. They are scared. We get that, but the thing to do is to lean into the facts and the science and not abandon them in a panic,” she said.
According to the Chicago Public Schools, as of Saturday, 2,416 adults and 8,336 students were in quarantine.
It said more than 90 percent of staff have been fully vaccinated.
Lightfoot said the three-day walkout has “had cascading negative ripple effects not only on the students in their learning, their social and emotional welfare, but also on the families themselves.”
“It is making them have tenuous financial status because they have to work, but they also have to take care of their kids. This is an untenable situation and completely, utterly avoidable. So I’m going to be on the side of the parents fighting every single day to get our kids back in school,” she said.