Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is the third largest school district in the U.S., with more than a third of a million students. In March 2020, like most school districts around the world, it pivoted to full-time online education. Since then, educators have seen the limits of that path as it’s currently practiced: nearly all jurisdictions have seen a failure rate of between 10 and 25 percent of remote students. The causes are myriad – lack of access to internet or technology, poor parental engagement, inadequate infrastructure – but nearly every teacher in the country has struggled with these numbers, and the results have many pushing hard for a return to traditional classroom learning, especially for the very young and those with special requirements. In Chicago, fewer than 20 percent of pre-K and special education students attended online classes.

In Chicago, the school district determined that approximately 70,000 students between kindergarten and eighth grade would return to school on February 1, 2021, with around 10,000 teachers and other staff there to meet them. But the Chicago Teachers Union opposes that plan, and that fight has been going on since August.

“There’s no doubt we all want to return to in-person instruction. The issue is CPS’ current unpreparedness for a return to in-person instruction, and the clear and present danger that poses to the health of our families and school communities,” said the union in a released statement.

The union, which would prefer not to send teachers back into classrooms until the new vaccinations are more widespread, has voted to disobey the school district’s order to resume in-person instruction. According to district officials, this work stoppage will be an illegal strike, but union members say that they are perfectly willing to teach as required, and it’s the district’s choice to force in-person education that will result in the stoppage.

Teachers in Illinois are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccinations as of January 25, 2021, but Chicago Public Schools will not begin vaccinating teachers and stuff until mid-February. The process is expected to take months.

Photo: Yellow restricted area caution tape and posted sign blocks off a playground at Swift School part of Chicago Public Schools in response to executive order number 8. Credit: Big Joe /