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Leaders of the third-largest school district in the United States have canceled classes for the third day in a row, The Associated Press reports, as heated negotiations continue with the Chicago Teachers’ Union over distance learning and other Covid-19 safety measures.

The union, which this week voted to return to online teaching, has asked teachers not to come to schools from Wednesday during the latest Covid-19 wave during negotiations between the two sides.

The move, just two days after students returned from winter break, prompted district officials to cancel daily classes for students in the district of about 350,000 students during negotiations, saying there was no plan to return to distance education districtwide.

School districts across the country have faced the same problems as the pandemic, with most choosing to stay open while virus testing ramps up and protocols and other adjustments are made in response to the changing pandemic.

A teacher protesting against COVID-19 safety measures in Chicago schools. Photo: Ashley Risen/The Associated Press

In a letter Thursday to parents, Chicago leaders said classes will be canceled on Friday but that “in-person learning and activities may be available at a small number of schools” depending on the number of employees who show up for work. A small percentage of teachers, along with substitutes, continued to come to schools during what the district described as an “illegal layoff.”

Some schools earlier on Thursday proactively alerted parents that they do not have enough staff and will not accept students except for catering in the largely low-income black and Latino region. The county said about 10% of about 21,620 teachers came to work Wednesday and by Thursday it was nearly 13%.

“Our schools are the best and safest place for students during this pandemic, and we are working tirelessly to get everyone back to class every day,” Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement Thursday night. “We will continue to work with CTU to resolve this situation and will provide you with ongoing updates as the week goes on.”

School leaders in Chicago have refused to return to distance learning, saying it exacerbates racial inequality and harms academic performance, mental health and attendance. County officials have spent about $100 million on a safety plan, including air purifiers in classrooms.

There was little sign Thursday that either side was calm — both the county and the union filed labor complaints with the state this week as negotiations continued.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who said the city was considering legal options to bring teachers back into classrooms, issued a statement late Thursday saying that negotiations lasted most of the day and were “productive in our view.” The city said teachers who do not come to schools will not be paid. The issues on the table include more testing and metrics to start closing schools.

The union has criticized the district for not doing enough, such as spoiling the testing program and maintaining unreliable data on infections in schools.

They have sought similar demands for the safety pact that was drawn up last year after heated debate. However, the district says the pandemic is now different than it was a year ago and requires a different response, especially since 91% of school staff have been vaccinated.


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