CHICAGO — About half of public school teachers scheduled to work Monday didn't show up in classrooms in an apparent protest of plans to revive in-person learning as the coronavirus crisis continues.
Chicago Public Schools chief executive Janice Jackson on Tuesday said about 60 percent of school based employees did return to work, which she called significant given many were "pressured" by the Chicago Teachers Union to stay home.
Teachers and support staff that continue to ditch work will face progressive discipline, Jackson said at a news conference. She did not say whether teachers could be fired for unexcused absences.
Chicago Teachers Union leaders on Tuesday predicted even more of the 5,800 teachers assigned to report to school this week in the ramp up to the scheduled return of some students next week. CTU President Jesse Sharkey said members don't feel safe and are scared to return to work. He told reporters Tuesday that claims of coronavirus safety precautions made by school system leaders lack credibility.
Jackson defended the school systems push to offer parents the option of in-person learning, which is set to begin for prekindergarten classes and clusters of special education students next week.
"These are scary times for everybody. ... But we have seen the results of schools that have reopened here in Chicago, throughout the state of Illinois and throughout the country and around the world, as a matter of fact. And they confirm that reopening is the right and necessary option for our students. They need us now more than ever, and we cannot allow this generation to simply slip through the cracks," Jackson said.
CPS officials also have faced criticism from more than 30 aldermen who signed on to a letter calling on the school's chief to reconsider the decision to reopen schools to some children this month.
Jackson questioned whether ward bosses have"purely political" motivations for raising objections to a plan that was first floated by the school system months ago.
“Why the concern now? Do they care more about the lives of CPS teachers than the Catholic school teachers that have been going to school since August? I think that it’s important to challenge the double standard that I think that people are placing on the district," Jackson said. "I also think it’s important to challenge the hypocrisy from some of them who have children who have been going to schools … but yet they’re making decisions or influencing the decisions of other people.”
At an unrelated news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said reviving in-person learning at public schools is a matter of racial equity. Black and Hispanic public school students in poor neighborhoods deserve to have access to in-person learning like kids who attend private school, the mayor said.
"Why would we would set up a situation where if your wealth and your white you get a set of options that if your poor or working class, and your Black and your brown, you do not," Lightfoot said. "We have an obligation to level the playing field for our children, so they have the same kind of educational opportunities as anyone else regardless of wealth, ZIP code, immigration status. That is an obligation that I have taken very seriously."