The tragic loss of life attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic will be the darkest legacy of 2020....
We are now closing in on the beginning of the third year that the Covid-19 crisis has dominated American & world politics and policies. Where the beginning of the pandemic was marked by shared uncertainties and protective measures, such as lockdowns, mask wearing, and emergency stimulus in the trillions, the second year of Covid-19 was markedly more political.
Approaches to living with the virus were split along geographic, but more importantly, political lines. This reality was on full display when the teachers union representing Chicago Public Schools went on strike at the beginning of January.
The Chicago Teachers Union effectively shut down public education in the city at the height of the Omicron strain of Covid’s spread in the United States. But this was not a proportional response to the risk being posed to children or educators. In fact, most of the public schools in the country, and as John O. McGinnis noted in The City-Journal, private schools within Chicago, remained open:
This action harms children, particularly poor children, who often do not have other sources of educational enrichment at home. The data are clear that virtual school is a poor substitute for in-person schooling, particularly in the primary grades. Recognizing their duty to children, private schools in Chicago, including the poorly funded Catholic school system, continue to offer in-person instruction.
McGinnis notes that the city spent millions of dollars upgrading the air-filtration systems and making a return to in-person learning safe for all involved. Worse, even the available data on Omicron at that early juncture showed that it proved little risk of serious illness compared to the benefits of getting kids back to school:
The school system has spent $100 million making school facilities safer and improving air-filtration systems. Chicago’s commissioner of public health has also pointed out that the Omicron variant does not pose a substantial danger of serious illness to children or to vaccinated teachers. For these groups, it is more on par with a serious flu outbreak, for which schools are rarely if ever shut down.
So, if online learning has been proven a detriment to our children and the health-risk posed to teachers by Omicron was minimal, why then did the teachers walk out? The answer, sadly, was politics.
Reviewing a list of demands made by the teachers union reveals a laundry list of protocols which would have all but guaranteed a moratorium on in-person learning. These include:
During the Omicron wave, communities within the city were well above the 3% case positivity rate, but this does not equal lethality, or even severity of the illness, and was an out to perpetuate remote work. Safety committees would delegate the authority of the city to ensure education to a third party, elected by the striking teachers. But these were not all the demands made. Others were purely advancing progressive causes having nothing to do with reopening schools safely, such as:
Even the city’s “progressive” mayor, Lori Lightfood, railed against the union for their ploy:
To be clear, what the Chicago Teacher’s Union did was an illegal walk-out. They abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.
In the end, teachers voted by a slim margin to end the strike, with minor concessions from the city, according to remarks made by Lightfoot and public schools chief, Pedro Martinez:
…in addition to the over $100 million already spent on COVID mitigation, CPS is providing KN95 masks, augmenting its every school-every week testing program, and strengthening its contact tracing approach.
Ultimately, the strike of Chicago’s public teachers over returning to work was not about “the science” or about the welfare of the children. Most of the country’s public-school teachers were back in the classroom amidst omicron, and the negative cost of remote learning on our nation’s students becomes more apparent as we move further from the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020. This move was to exert political control over the decision-making policies surrounding education and public health and callously used the city’s children as pawns to further a political agenda.
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Image Credit: Photo by Ruben Rodriguez on Unsplash