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Dispute Over Reopening Schools In Chicago Could Lead To Teachers Strike

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tens of thousands of students in Chicago were expecting to be back in the classroom today. Instead, Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union are in a standoff over what schools should do and how. And this clash could end in a strike by teachers. Here's Sarah Karp from our member station WBEZ.

SARAH KARP, BYLINE: The union and the school district have failed to reach a deal over reopening. School staff and teachers worry that returning to class will compromise their health and safety. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has stressed the need for in-person learning.

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LORI LIGHTFOOT: We have to have a sense of urgency and passion because our children's lives are hanging in the balance.

KARP: She says too many students are struggling, and yet a majority of parents in the district are choosing to keep their children learning at home. For the 67,000 students whose parents have asked for in-person learning, the mayor has demanded teachers report to school today, but the teachers union has refused. If that refusal continues, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she will block thousands of union members from teaching remotely, and that could lead to a strike which would shut down classes of any kind for all students. One of the sticking points is which staff can and should be given accommodations. People with qualifying medical conditions are allowed to work from home, but not so for every teacher who lives with someone at heightened risk of severe COVID. Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

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STACY DAVIS GATES: The educators who serve this city, they live with people who have comorbidities. They care for people who have comorbidities.

KARP: The union is fighting for a staggered reopening linked to the vaccine rollout. Meanwhile, parents are at odds over reopening. Willie Preston says he wants his 4-year-old daughter to be back in in-person school.

WILLIE PRESTON: The fact is she will never, ever get these years back. And so we want to make sure that we start our kids off on a strong foundation.

KARP: But a majority of Chicago Public School parents have made clear they don't yet want their children back in school. Many say they don't feel like it is safe enough for their children or their teachers. The school district and the teachers union are scheduled to continue talking and to meet today. Those meetings will take place remotely, not in person.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Karp in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.