Who really runs Chicago's public schools? A power struggle between school administrators/city officials and the city's teachers union has come to an impasse this week, leaving students and families in the country's third-largest school district in the lurch.
Citing concerns about the omicron variant of COVID-19, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted Tuesday to ditch in-person instruction for a few weeks and go back to remote learning. A memo from the union to Chicago teachers told them to stay home until January 18. There's just one problem: That's not really the CTU's call. Rather, it's up to the head of Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
"The CTU doesn't make decisions about how our CPS system works. The CEO does. He's the boss," said Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
"We are committed to remaining at the table with CTU leadership and negotiating a fair agreement," she tweeted. "But what we cannot accept is unilateral action to shut down the entire district, depriving hundreds of thousands of students of the safe, in-person schooling environment they need."
On Wednesday, her office filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the CTU, calling its actions an "illegal strike."
"I will not allow them to take our children hostage. I will not allow them to compromise the future of this generation of CPS students. That is not going to happen," Lightfoot said.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said teachers who don't show up in person will not be paid. "The simple answer is if people want to be compensated, they have to show up for work," Martinez told the Chicago CBS affiliate.
"We are seeking a more reasonable approach to responding to COVID cases on a school-by-school basis," CPS said in a statement on Tuesday. Yesterday, the district sent a letter to parents reporting that "many staff members, including many teachers," still showed up in person on Wednesday and "some schools have enough staff reporting to work to return to in-person instruction as soon as Friday."
Resources for families today:
- Meals are available at all schools from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- These Safe Haven sites are available for childcare: https://t.co/1qYXBVqZuT
- Chicago Park District fieldhouses will be open during normal operating hours: https://t.co/ppsLeCSnrt https://t.co/OFT25y5y32
— CPS—Chicago Public Schools (@ChiPubSchools) January 5, 2022
Meanwhile, the teachers union said its members understand frustration with the decision and "will continue to work diligently, as we have for months, to encourage the Mayor and her CPS leadership team to at last commit to enforceable safety protections centered on the well-being of our students, their families and our school communities." Teachers have been calling for more frequent COVID-19 testing of students, provision of high-quality masks, and other changes they say are necessary to keep schools safe.
At a press conference, Lightfoot emphasized the steps that had already been taken to make schools safer—including updated ventilation and filter systems and in-school masking—and talked about the damage to children from being out of the classroom for long stretches. "The worst thing that we can do is shut the entire system down," said Lightfoot.
There's nothing in "the data, the science, or common sense" that suggests shutting down all Chicago public schools is the right course of action, she said.
Meanwhile, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady tried to correct misinformation about COVID-19 and Chicago children. "One of the things I'm hearing the most misinformation about is that Chicago hospitals are filling up with children, that many Chicago children are dying of COVID, that it's a really scary time to be a child right now with COVID in Chicago," said Arwady. "And I want you to understand that…child COVID hospitalizations remain very rare. Across the whole city—approximately 550,000 children—we are averaging just seven COVID hospitalizations a day right now for children ages zero to 17."
"I want to just reassure you, especially if you are vaccinated, if your child is vaccinated, this is behaving like the flu," said Arwady, "and we don't close school districts for an extended amount of time because of the flu."
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot by pro-Trump forces. A few notable things looking back…
• In the immediate aftermath of the riot, many Republicans condemned it and Trump for encouraging it. But as the year dragged on and election fraud claims proved a popular rallying cry for the GOP base, more Republican leaders began playing along. "Choosing fealty to Donald Trump over respect for democracy, Republicans have walked back their pledge to hold insurrectionists accountable," suggests Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone.
• While the appetite for punishing the Capitol rioters was high—and still is—prosecutors have at least shown some restraint with those involved. Hundreds have been charged, but no one is being prosecuted as treasonous merely for posting about the riots online, and the feds aren't seeking domestic terror charges, opting instead for milder misdemeanor charges or destruction of federal property. (Which isn't to say that some of the sentencing hasn't been overly harsh, or that prosecutors haven't been up to their usual tricks).
• Public social media posts have provided the evidence for many of the charges. "Social media posts have led to 80% of the charges to date, whether implicating the account holders themselves or individuals pictured in the photos or videos of another rioter's post," notes Courthouse News Service. "Hundreds of them bragged about their actions in front of thousands of people, confidently posting on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, Parler and more, and creating a fairly easy job for FBI agents."
• Parler vindicated? The right-learning social media platform took a lot of blame in the wake of January 6, despite the fact that organizing for the riot and posting about it crossed social media platforms. For instance, "Facebook groups swelled with at least 650,000 posts attacking the legitimacy of Joe Biden's victory between Election Day and the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, with many calling for executions or other political violence," according to a recent analysis by ProPublica and The Washington Post. Meanwhile, it came out that Parler had actually warned the FBI about the attack beforehand.
Empowering censorship? Empowering parents to control what their children are exposed to in schools has become a rallying cry on the right. But "while empowering parents sounds nice, politicians who have adopted the mantra are pushing to curtail academic freedom and ban books," notes Judd Legum in his newsletter. "It's less about parent involvement in their child's education and more about imposing cultural conservatism on every aspect of public education." Sigh.
Legum points to Oklahoma, where newly introduced legislation would ban certain books from public school libraries. The open-ended bill would prohibit "books that address the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, gender identity, or books that contain content of a sexual nature that a reasonable parent or legal guardian would want to know about or approve of before their child is exposed to it." School employees could be fired and schools could be sued by parents if books were not removed within 30 days of a parental request.
States get a report card on telemedicine. A new report from Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this magazine) looks at telehealth during the pandemic:
During the pandemic millions of people used telehealth for the first time, and liked it. This report grades the 50 states on how well they allow doctors and patients to use telehealth where appropriate. How does your state rank?https://t.co/ZJ1FYzrb9z @VittorioNastasi
— Adrian Moore (@reasonpolicy) January 5, 2022
• A judge has dismissed a child pornography lawsuit against Nirvana filed by the man who as a baby appeared nude on the cover of the band's album Nevermind.
• A bad ruling for third parties and political pluralism:
11th Cir. holds that Georgia's ballot-access rules for parties not granted automatic ballot access (like GOP, Dems) do not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendment (even though no party has ever qualified).
A loss for the Libertarian Party.https://t.co/34hGcwQfDF
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) January 5, 2022
• A large new study looks at the effects of psilocybin on cognitive functioning. Researchers found "that 10 mg and 25 mg doses of psilocybin were generally well tolerated when given to up to six participants simultaneously and did not have any detrimental short- or long-term effects on cognitive functioning or emotional processing."
• Biden's antitrust enforcement won't fix inflation, J.D. Tuccille writes.
• Texas massage parlors are now required to post signs about human trafficking.
• To-go cocktails in New York may be here to stay:
NEW: In her written State of the State message, Governor Hochul calls for making cocktails-to-go permanent in New York.
— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellNY) January 5, 2022
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.