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Chicago Teachers Rally For A Safe Return To Schools

Source: NurPhoto / Getty

Expressing pandemic related safety concerns, teachers in Chicago want to continue teaching remotely despite the district’s push for in-person classes. The Chicago Teachers Union announced Sunday that over 70% of its member teachers opted to continue remote instruction while waiting for vaccination. 

Chicago teachers have long pushed for equity in reopening plans that place a major emphasis on student, staff, and community safety. The district has maintained it is following the department of health guidelines for reopening. Elementary and middle school teachers were supposed to return to the classroom Monday with students expected to start on Feb. 1. 

The school district posted a letter online saying the teacher’s expected return would be pushed back to Wednesday. The union continues to push for teachers who have medically vulnerable relatives to receive an accommodation for remote work. 

Randi Weingerten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), reportedly spoke with senior Biden Administration staff over the weekend about the situation in Chicago. The Chicago Sun Times reported that president Biden expressed support for the teacher’s safety concerns. The Chicago Teachers Union is an AFT local. 

Meanwhile, some in the Atlanta metro area were concerned after three teachers died after contracting COVID-19. The COVID-19 related deaths of three Cobb County teachers made national news last week after a few school board members refused to wear masks during a moment of silence in honor of one of the teachers.

Over 100 Cobb County teachers called out sick on Monday and more than 60% of students remain on virtual learning through the end of the school year. 

Responding to safety concerns, Atlanta Public Schools announced its plan to conduct weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing. Testing will be voluntary. Monday was the first day for in-person learning for pre-K to second grade students. Special needs students also returned. 

APS plans to phase in the remaining grade levels with third to fifth graders scheduled to return on February 8. As of now, middle and high school students will return on Feb. 16. 

The struggle facing teachers in Chicago and the Atlanta metro area resemble challenges happening across the country as teachers, parents, and school districts navigate education in a pandemic. While safety concerns remain, parents remain worried about students falling behind due to remote learning. 

President Biden has made safe school reopenings a part of his 100 days plan. While the final decision on school reopening falls to state and local decision-makers, the new administration is insistent on showing strong leadership in handling all aspects of the pandemic.

Anoa Changa is a movement journalist and retired attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Anoa on Instagram and Twitter @thewaywithanoa.

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