National School Choice Week

Chicago Teachers Union Refuses Order To Go Back to Classrooms

District officials described the act of defiance as an illegal strike.


Members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to continue to teach remotely—even though district officials want teachers back in classrooms beginning this week.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson described any refusal to come to work on Monday as an "illegal strike," according to The Washington Post.

The union reported that roughly 86 percent of its 25,000 members participated in the vote, and 71 percent of teachers wanted to keep teaching remotely. "CPS did everything possible to divide us by instilling fear through threats of retaliation, but you still chose unity, solidarity and to collectively act as one," said the union in a statement.

The union has previously claimed that the push to reopen schools is rooted in "sexism and racism," even though the inadequacies of virtual education are disproportionately harming young people of color and forcing hundreds of thousands of women to exit the work force. And when the district decided to hire 2,000 new employees to assist students in the classroom if their teachers opt to continue with distance learning, the union objected to that plan, too.

This is completely unreasonable—and totally unfair to the kids and parents held hostage by politically powerful teachers unions. Many families would undoubtedly prefer to reclaim the per-pupil dollars forcibly confiscated via taxation and spend that money on education options that actually meet their kids' needs: private school, pod-based learning, tutoring, etc. But the public school system obviously won't give back the money; it will continue to compensate teachers even if they refuse to work.

Completely unreasonable behavior is not solely the province of Chicago's teachers: In Fairfax, Virginia, teachers union boss Kimberly Adams expressed opposition to five-day in-person learning next fall, even if all the teachers have been vaccinated. In an email to Reason, Adams confirmed that she believes the hybrid model—two days of in-person learning and three days of virtual learning—should remain in place.

"Concern remains that students will not be vaccinated before they return to school," said Adams. "This requires that we maintain the hybrid model and continue social distancing, masking and all the other mitigation strategies."

Of course, there's no plan to vaccinate most students—because the vaccines aren't even approved for kids younger than 16. What Adams is suggesting is essentially that schools should remain mostly virtual indefinitely.

This is a horrifying prospect for many families. It's especially tough for the kids themselves. Nevada's Clark County School District, which includes Las Vegas, recently made the decision to reopen, in part because of a rash of suicides among young people.

"When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn't just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore," Jesus Jara, Clark County's superintendent, told The New York Times. "We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They've got to start seeing some movement, some hope."

That Times report, which goes into great detail about the pandemic-inflicted mental health crisis among kids, is not for the faint of heart. Young people, thankfully, have very little to fear from the disease itself. But society's strategies for coping with COVID-19 have impacted them severely. Many of the most disadvantaged children—those who rely on the public school system—have been at home for nearly an entire year. We are already seeing the effects on their mental health, and the future will likely bring equally bad consequences in terms of their educational achievements, college prospects, and beyond.

This is all happening despite the fact that schools can reopen safely, and have never been associated with significant COVID-19 spread. With teachers at the front of the vaccination line in many states, the already thin argument for continuing to traumatize children in the name of public safety is hard to take seriously.

Yet teachers unions, in Chicago and elsewhere, are holding the public education system hostage. Their petty defiance is not just cruel, but also contrary to both established science and the clear interests of families. Letting a class of government employees become this powerful should be treated as a clear failing of public policy.