With the new COVID-19 variants causing a surge in cases across the U.S., public school teachers in Chicago, Illinois, have indicated they will gladly return to remote work, despite how frustrating virtual learning has been for many parents and kids. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is also prepared to order a strike.
The union polled its members on whether they would support going on strike against in-person work when school is slated to resume in January. Some 89 percent agreed to do so. At a virtual meeting on Tuesday, 91 percent of union members were in favor of the "remote-work action."
"If [Chicago Public Schools] doesn't call for a period of remote instruction following winter break, are you prepared to participate in a remote-work action as soon as we can organize a vote?" asked the two polls.
With case counts rising rapidly, it's understandable for teachers to be concerned. Even so, moving back to virtual school would be an unmitigated disaster and a wholesale betrayal of working families, which is why both President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Michael Cardona have maintained that schools should remain open despite the omicron wave. The cost of closing schools is extremely high: Many young people languish in virtual learning environments, and fail to learn much of anything at all. it's clear that Zoom education has contributed to significant learning losses, particularly among minority and low-income kids—they just don't absorb very much information when they have to sit in front of their screens all day (if they show up at all).
Moreover, the burden of watching virtual learners falls on parents, many of whom have professional obligations of their own. Physical schools serve a vital daycare function so that parents can work without arranging for babysitters each and every day. Many working people do not have the resources or flexibility to manage at-home kids: They are still expected to show up to work, pandemic or no pandemic. The same should be true of teachers: K-12 education is funded through tax dollars, and families deserve the full benefits of this compulsory public service.
Last year, CTU fought tooth and nail to keep schools closed as long as possible. Today, given widespread vaccination, the evidence is clear that schools can and should remain open, and that in-person instruction can continue with minimal safety risks. Teachers unions that keep struggling against this urgent need to give kids the educational experience they need and deserve are only undermining their own credibility.
While the new variants of COVID-19 have proven to be incredibly contagious, it remains the case that the vaccines offer incredible defense against severe disease and death. (The omicron variant also appears to cause milder disease in general.) Teachers who get vaccinated enjoy tremendous protection from bad COVID-19 outcomes, and they belong in the classroom alongside their students, who are also protected from COVID-19 due to their youth.