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'This Is Not Chicago,' New York City Mayor Eric Adams Said This Week On Discussions With Teachers' Union On COVID-19 Safety, Remote Learning

CHICAGO (CBS Chicago/CBSNewYork/AP) -- Recently-inaugurated New York City Mayor Eric Adams took a shot at Chicago this week as he addressed discussions with the city's teachers' union on remote learning and COVID-19 protocols.

As Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said in Chicago, Adams has insisted that the safest place for children is to be in school. But on Thursday, Adams said he was considering allowing New York City Public Schools to return to some form of virtual instruction amid the COVID-19 surge there, because "we do have to be honest that there's a substantial number of children, for whatever reason, parents are not bringing them to school."

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers union representing the city's public school teachers, had asked the mayor to postpone in-person learning as Adams took office.

Adams said Thursday that he's been working closely with Mulgrew and has been willing to entertain temporary remote learning so long as it was a "quality option."

"But my goal: I want children in school," Adams said.

The mayor stressed that the city would not see a dispute like that in Chicago.

"This is not Chicago," Adams said. "We can resolve this. We can get through these crises and we will find the right way to educate our children in a very safe environment."

The Chicago Teachers Union voted last week to begin working remotely as they demanded better COVID-19 safety measures at schools coming out of winter break amid a major surge in cases fueled by the more contagious Omicron variant.

Chicago Public Schools in turn canceled classes altogether for what ended up being five days. Mayor Lightfoot and CPS called the teachers' remote learning action an "illegal work stoppage," while the CTU called it a lockout.

"We asked CTU leadership – take a moment, review the plan, come back to us with a response at the bargaining table, delay the vote – do not do an illegal work stoppage," Mayor Lightfoot a week ago Tuesday night. "And to that, the answer was, 'No, sorry, we're moving ahead.'"

On Monday of this week, the CTU House of Delegates voted to end the remote learning action after a deal was reached with CPS. Teachers returned to schools on Tuesday, and students on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, rank-and-file teachers voted to approve the deal, which will keep kids in classrooms after those five days of canceled classes due to a standoff with the city over remote learning and virus testing.

Union officials urged teachers to back the deal despite the frustration that the district wouldn't grant demands for widespread coronavirus testing or commit to districtwide remote learning during surges.

The agreement passed with Passed by 55.54 percent. Just under 70 percent of total membership voted - just shy of 19,000 teachers cast ballots.

The new agreement includes allowing individual schools to go back to remote learning, requiring the district to provide KN-95 masks to students and staff, and letting schools decide if they want to reinstate a student health screener.

On Friday, hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students walked out of classes, and a group of students later blocked traffic in the Loop near State and Madison streets - as they protested the decision to resume in-person learning.

Students organizing the walkout said they were not asked to contribute to discussions about their academic and personal needs in order to feel safe going back to in-person classes during the Omicron surge of the pandemic.

The Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance, or Chi-Rads, organized the walkout. Dozens of students later gathered at CPS headquarters in the Loop to protest the return to in-person classes amid the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases. Students walked out at several schools, including Percy Julian High School, Kenwood Academy High School, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, and Solorio Academy High School.

Some of the things they are demanding include improved contact tracing, prohibiting fans at sporting events, and providing one full-time therapist for every 30 students.

Meanwhile back in New York on Friday, Adams said he is going to make sure schools stay open, as city officials went on negotiating a temporary return to remote learning students who aren't showing up for class, CBS 2 New York Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported.

The mayor continued to reiterate his position that schools must stay open, just as New York City businesses must bring their workers back.

"Schools are not closing. To be very clear on that, we are not closing our schools," Adams said Friday. "We are now speaking with the UFT on different methods on how we can make sure our children are educated in a very safe environment."

Sources told CBS 2 New York that talks between the New York City Department of Education, City Hall in New York, and United Federation of Teachers are expected to go on throughout the weekend – even on Monday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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