K-12 DIGEST: Chicago Teachers Union sets a new standard for covid hardlining

A threshold by which the nation will draw a line between caution and carelessness on school covid protocols was reached in Chicago last night.

The city’s teachers’ union voted late yesterday evening to stop all in-person learning at least until Jan. 18, citing concerns over rising infection rates and a lack of mitigation infrastructure in Chicago Public Schools facilities.

Many of the 25,000 registered union members are parents of school-aged children and acknowledge that the stance on no in-person instruction grinds much of the city’s planning around dealing with covid to a temporary halt.

At issue are costs associated with a CTU proposal to provide masks to all students and employees, a 20% benchmark for absences due to infection to trigger a return to virtual learning, and mandatory negative PCR tests for all students before returning to classes.

CPS proposes a higher benchmark for teacher absences and school-based virtual learning triggers based upon infection rates for students.

There will be no amicable solutions if the two sides can’t agree on the percentages of sick people that allow for folks to work and learn from home because, at some point, everyone will be sick, at least for a while.

And this is the most crucial factor of this story; the two sides aren’t arguing about sickness, but rather, should we try to stop people from being infected by covid or manage what happens when most, if not all people get infected by covid.

Federal and state governments have invested trillions into resources in a race towards herd immunity while limiting hospitalizations and death. But, there is no more defeating covid by halting the spread of the disease because Americans won’t stop spreading it.

35% of Chicago residents have not completed a vaccine series, and nearly 50% of the city’s Black residents are in this category, the worst among all ethnic groups, averaging about 66% collectively.

The union has taken a popular position; we’re still conditioned to believe that covid can be defeated if we all stay home and stop the spread. That made sense in 2020 but not in 2022 with personal protective equipment, vaccines, and awareness in abundance, but skepticism and distancing fatigue at equally high rates.

Seemingly and for the first time, an outdated approach to ending the pandemic has transformed into a policy. The story of covid has always separated into sections on fighting the science of the virus and fighting disbelief, misinformation, and reluctance about the science.

The CTU is now fighting to interpret the science and implement strategies that, even at their best, won’t steel against a virus stemmed only by shots. Members are willing to impact industry and social construct to make a point conceded early last month; that even the best shots won’t stop this plague, only the fatalities it wants to claim.

Will unions, organizations, and teachers nationwide take the same position and cut an education system already bleeding profusely from retirements, frustration, and broken resources just a little deeper?

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