Public schools

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Says Teachers Must Go Back to School: 'Enough Is Enough'

"We are failing those children by not giving them the option to return to school."


Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded with the city's public school teachers to return to classrooms at a press conference Thursday morning.

"We are ready to welcome our students back," said Lightfoot. "Frankly, they have been ready for some time."

Chicago schools were prepared to reopen on Monday of this week, but members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to stay at home. The city and the union have negotiated all week, but the union has yet to accept Lightfoot's proposal. Chicago parents are thus in the stressful position of spending all day, every day, not sure whether their child's school will be open tomorrow. This likely creates massive disruptions for working families, but CTU has shown no interest whatsoever in reaching a deal with the city to reopen schools.

"We've extended ourselves beyond measure," said Lightfoot. "We need our kids back in school. We need our parents to have that option. It should not be that CPS parents are, of all the schools in our city, the only ones that don't have the option for in-person learning. It cannot be that a public school denies parents that right."

The mayor stressed that remote learning works for some students, but it "absolutely does not work for everyone." She noted that many students were suffering from depression and isolation, and their grades are plummeting.

The press conference also included statements from Janice K. Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and Allison Arwady, the city's public health commissioner. Both expressed incredible frustration with CTU: Jackson said that she didn't think any company or employer in the private sector would tolerate the sort of behavior teachers are engaged in, while Arwady pointed out that all available science supports the safe reopening of schools.

"Settings with positivity rates five times higher than what we have, they have been able to reopen schools," said Arwady.

Nearly everything Lightfoot, Jackson, and Arwady said about schools was reasonable and well-supported by the evidence. It is crystal clear that the policy they are advocating—get kids back in their classrooms—is in the best interest of students and their families, and poses minimal risk to the safety of teachers. And it is equally clear that CTU just doesn't care.

San Francisco's city attorney, with the support of Mayor London Breed, is now suing the school district to force schools to reopen. Lightfoot has ruled out taking such action in Chicago, but she may wish to reconsider. It's hard to imagine the unions backing down, short of an explicit legal order, as individual teachers have essentially taken the position that they would prefer to remain at home until COVID-19 presents no danger whatsoever.