1 of 2 | Jesse Sharkey (R), President of the Chicago Teachers Union, demonstrates with union supporters during a strike in Chicago in 2019. The union voted on Tuesday to return to remote learning due to concerns about the spread of the virus in classrooms. File Photo by Charles Edward Miller/Flickr
Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Hundreds of thousands of students in Chicago will not go to school on Wednesday after the Chicago Teachers Union voted for remote learning because of what it calls inadequate COVID-19 and Omicron protections.
The union said 73% of its membership voted late Tuesday not to return to the classroom due to concerns about the virus.
"The educators of this city want to be in their classrooms with their students," the union said in a statement. "We believe that our city's classrooms are where our students should be. Regrettably, the mayor and her CPS leadership have put the safety and vibrancy of our students and their educators in jeopardy."
The union acknowledged facing upset parents and families who believed their children would return to the classroom, but said the vote was a result of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school leaders failing to make classes safe for students and faculty.
"We 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," the union added.
Lightfoot, Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez and public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the school environment was safe enough to return with mitigation measures.
Lightfoot expressed frustration with the union, making reference to a 2019 teachers strike when she claimed that educators fought attempts to reopen schools. She accused union leaders of "politicizing the pandemic."
"There is no basis in the data, the science of common sense for us to shut an entire system down when we can surgically do this at a school level," Lightfoot said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Lightfoot called on the union to work with city officials to resolve concerning issues.
"The worst thing we can do is to shut the entire system down," she added, according to WMAQ-TV. "What we need to be focused on is working together. What I'd love to see CTU do is not force an illegal work stoppage. What I'd love to see them do is work hand-in-glove with us to get kids and their families vaccinated."
More than 300,000 students attend schools in the Chicago Public Schools district.
The union's vote came after the United States recorded nearly 1.1 million new coronavirus cases on Monday, which smashed the previous national daily record. The wild surge in cases is being primarily driven, experts say, by the Omicron variant.