Teachers unions across the country have fought to keep schools closed, and students stuck at home during the pandemic. Despite a growing body of research that shows schools can reopen safely, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been one of the loudest voices against reopening. But even Democrats — usually union allies — are getting sick of teachers unions pushing to keep students out of the classroom.
After reaching a tentative deal with the teachers union, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave an interview with the New York Times where she opened up about how the union’s antics were hurting students.
Mayor Lightfoot acknowledged what experts have been saying for months: “social life has been completely torn from so many of our young people. Our 3-, 4-, 5-year-olds? Their social-emotional learning is absolutely central to their growth, and yet we see them learning on screens.”
Still, the union fought tooth and nail to avoid getting back in the classroom, even while Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were trying to move forward with safe and coordinated reopening plans. Caught in the middle of this battle were countless students, and their parents, who were being denied access to in-person learning.
Putting students’ best interests second to its own is nothing new for the union. In 2019, CTU members walked off the job for a ten-day strike. The city rewarded them for this stunt, agreeing to a “five-year contract that included a 16-percent pay hike.” The average full-time CPS teacher made over six figures in 2020 including benefits. This time around, CTU had the coronavirus pandemic as an even bigger bargaining chip and was quick to use it to the union’s advantage.
But many private schools in the area have been open for months with relatively low coronavirus infection rates. One parent even pulled his child from the CPS system after watching his “5-year-old daughter struggle during remote learning.” He saw her falling behind other kids who had access to in-person learning, including some at Chicago’s Catholic and private schools. Other parents faced similar struggles. As Mayor Lightfoot noted, “many students were suffering from depression and isolation” and their grades were also suffering.
In the words of Mayor Lightfoot, “When you have unions that have other aspirations beyond being a union, and maybe being something akin to a political party, then there’s always going to be conflict.” She suggested looking at the union’s spending to see what their real priorities are — hint, it doesn’t look like it’s delivering the best education for students. In fact, Lightfoot went on to say she speculated the union’s ultimate goal is to “take over not only Chicago Public Schools, but take over running the city government.”
Whether or not that’s true, one thing is certain: By fighting to keep students home, the CTU has put the education and development of thousands of students at risk.