Teachers unions across country cite COVID surge to demand halt to in-person learning

Teachers unions in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois have pushed for a return to remote learning

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Teachers unions in multiple states are pushing for a return to remote learning due to a surge in coronavirus cases, setting the stage for further conflict between educators, politicians and parents.

Supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union participate in a car caravan, as negotiations with Chicago Public Schools continue over a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety plan agreement in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., Jan. 30, 2021.

Supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union participate in a car caravan, as negotiations with Chicago Public Schools continue over a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety plan agreement in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., Jan. 30, 2021. (Reuters/Eileen T. Meslar)

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Massachusetts recently argued that teachers would not be returning to safe environments.

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"The tests provided by the state allow for testing of all teachers and staff, and that should proceed," said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. "It should then be followed by a period of remote learning until the current wave of infections abates."
 
"This is not the time for finger pointing. It is time for Governor Baker and Commissioner Riley to accept the fact that we are in the midst of a runaway public health crisis that is beyond our control. They must acknowledge that returning students to school on Monday will inevitably make the crisis much worse."

Baker, on Monday, defended in-person learning, arguing that it was important to students' learning and mental health.

"The vast majority of school districts and schools in Massachusetts are opening today, which I think is incredibly important and a terrifically positive sign about the hard work that so many people around the commonwealth are doing every single day to make sure kids get the education that they're entitled to and that they deserve, and that they and their families have the predictability that comes with knowing that their schools are going to be open and available to serve their kids," Baker said during a visit to Saltonstall School in Salem.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker delivers his state of the state address Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in the House Chamber at the Statehouse, in Boston. Baker said Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 that he won't seek a third term as governor of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker delivers his state of the state address Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in the House Chamber at the Statehouse, in Boston. Baker said Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 that he won't seek a third term as governor of Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

While the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) previously called for a pause on in-person learning in 2021, it recently requested a series of measures such as mask mandates and cost-free access to COVID testing.

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore told the community last week that "loss of in-person learning is just too great a cost."

Moore said that while he understood the interest in remote learning, "[w]e simply cannot do that. The state of Connecticut does not consider remote learning as an alternative this year to in-school days, and any remote days for the district would need to be made up."

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Chicago reportedly could see teachers not showing up to work because of the virus. According to Block Club Chicago, the executive board for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is expected to meet Monday with a possible vote on the issue Tuesday.

Lightfoot defended the return to in-person learning, arguing that "[w]e cannot ignore the sad lessons of a whole district resorting to remote learning."

WBEZ reported that teachers were preparing for a walk-out on Wednesday. The CTU also criticized Mayor Lightfoot's vaccine efforts last week, saying that Chicago Public Schools should pause in-person learning if additional mitigations weren't put in place.

"We want to be in our buildings educating our students — but we have a right to rigorous layered mitigation that ensures that we’re also not sacrificing our lives for our livelihoods," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a press release last week. "CPS has the funds — over 2 billion by their own count — to be able to do what’s necessary starting Monday morning to keep people safe. If those mitigations aren’t in place by Monday to protect our educators, students and families, we predict chaos."

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A union in New York City indicated it didn't make much progress, reportedly saying Mayor Eric Adams rejected remote learning.

According to PIX 11, a city Department of Education spokesperson said: "All of the data shows that the safest place for children is inside a school, and we’re working with our school leaders to ensure they are fully prepared to welcome back students and staff safely in-person on Monday. We have robust measures in place to immediately address any staffing issues to keep our doors open for the hundreds of thousands of children and families who rely on schools as a lifeline every day."