A group of parents sued the Chicago Teachers Union on Thursday to demand an immediate return to in-person instruction for K–12 children after the union’s members went on strike to teach remotely, forcing the school district to cancel classes until an agreement could be negotiated.
Attorneys at Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm in education advocacy, filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of a coalition of parents infuriated by the CTU’s decision to “illegally strike” and teach virtually after the winter break. At a press briefing Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot cast light on the “scramble” of working parents to make accommodations to keep their children at home given such short notice. She claimed the CTU was holding students “hostage.”
Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Friday for the third consecutive day after the union voted Tuesday to walk out of school and hold courses online despite lacking authorization to do so. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said the district had invited the union to the bargaining table before the vote, but the CTU refused to engage. The suspension of in-person learning will presumably continue until CPS acquiesces and passes sweeping Covid-19 mitigation measures for students and faculty, CTU has vowed. Lightfoot confirmed that all teachers who stay home will not receive pay.
“CTU’s resolution calling members to not show up for work in-person is a strike regardless of what CTU calls it and violates both the collective bargaining agreement with CPS and Illinois law,” said Jeffrey Schwab, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “CTU cannot unilaterally decide what actions should be taken to keep public schools safe, completely silencing parents’ input about what is best for the health, safety, and well-being of their children.”
Since the union’s contract stipulates that strikes are not allowed, CTU leadership justified the move by claiming that members were not ditching work but rather just doing it remotely until CPS meets their classroom-safety conditions amid the Omicron wave of Covid-19. Martinez clarified Tuesday that only the governor of Illinois can authorize a transition to remote learning; therefore, CPS had no choice but to cancel school.
“Throughout this entire pandemic, our kids have paid a tremendous price for adults’ mistakes and miscalculations, and now the teachers’ union has hastily and recklessly put them on their political roller coaster again,” said Laurel Golden, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and a CPS parent. “The science is clear, and so is the desire of parents: Our kids need and deserve to be in school. This illegal strike must be ended immediately, and we must get kids back into the classroom.”
Lawyers for the parents requested an emergency hearing Friday so that a judge could rule that teachers must resume in-person teaching starting Monday.