As both teachers and students stage walkouts in protest of a return to in-school learning, schools in that region question what is best in this seemingly never-ending pandemic.
Saturday, January 15, 2022, Chicago area. For the past couple of days, there have been several student walkouts from over 20 different Chicago public schools. As Omicron continues to surge, so do the students protesting. Despite the mask mandates indoors, many still feel unprotected against this new variant, which is generally less severe, but far more contagious.
This walkout was emotionally-charged and directed squarely at CPS headquarters to make a statement asking for tighter protocol, such as more frequent testing and more mask distribution, as well as more emergency measures like going remote again.
"They stopped doing it," said freshman Joel Brown in regards to the testing when asked by ABC News. "Kids be coming in here with COVID. We'll never know."
Of course, a massive political move like this has been met with a wide range of reactions. While many parents were supportive of their children for being so active in politics, others feel differently, questioning what else they want the schools to do. For parents such as mother of two Derrontae Gonzalez, whose five-year old son has a learning disability, it makes little sense to return to remote learning, as the move has already slowed her son’s progress in school.“It’s difficult because my 5-year-old son has a learning disability and it’s been a struggle for him to be home,” she said when asked by the Chicago Sun Times.
One influential endorsement has stood loud and clear: the Chicago Teachers Union. In fact, not only has the CTU been lauding the student walkout, they have been organizing for teachers to do the same. In the beginning of January, there were frequent conflicts between the Chicago school administrators and the CTU, which encouraged teachers to stay home as a form of protest until some of their demands were met. The CPS, however, refused to let teachers go remote. As a result of the impasse, schools across the city shut down for about five days but reopened on Jan 12th after negotiations between the two parties.
While many are relieved to have a form of agreement, not all are pleased. In fact, many teachers feel like the CTU conceded too much.
“...we have a boss who does not know how to negotiate, does not know how to hear real concerns and is not willing to respect our rank and file enough to listen to us when we tell her we need more protection.”
In response, CTU President Jesse Sharkley has moved blame onto Mayor Lori Lightfoot, changing, “...we have a boss who does not know how to negotiate, does not know how to hear real concerns and is not willing to respect our rank and file enough to listen to us when we tell her we need more protection.”
Chicago Public Schools ultimately released the following statement: Chicago Public Schools (CPS) remains committed to fostering learning environments that allow students to respectfully deliberate issues with evidence and an open mind - and safely participate in civic action.
It is appropriate in classes or special school events to create an environment where students of all viewpoints feel that they can express themselves in a safe and respectful environment.
Since January, Omicron numbers declined a bit. In February, rates have dropped sharply. All U.S. school districts surely hope that we can finally put Covid behind us.