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Some Parents Plead For In-Person Learning As Chicago Teachers Union Votes On Authorizing Teachers To Stay Remote

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, so does the battle over returning to in-person learning at Chicago Public Schools.

Kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers are scheduled to return to classrooms this Monday, Jan. 25. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade are set to return a week later, on Monday, Feb. 1.

As CBS 2's Jeremy Ross reported, some parents are urging educators to stick to that timeline. But the Chicago Teachers Union is holding a vote that could change everything.

It has been about 10 months since some students have seen the inside of a classroom. Those 10 months have been long for 6-year-old Constantino Torres and his 6-year-old sister, Olivia.

Both are relying on e-learning, and both have special needs.

"My daughter she has issues with speech and a learning disability, so I'm not a speech therapist; I'm not a special education teacher, and besides not being a regular teacher," said their mom, Yvette Torres.

Torres described the effort to educate at home due to COVID-19 as an isolating uphill internet battle the entire family is losing.

"They actually all are failing right now for something that we have no control over - who's truly failing?" she said. "I feel like I'm failing as a parent, but I feel that CTU and CPS needs to take some acknowledgment of that as well."

Torres was one of a handful of other parents making a plea for in-person learning outside the Chicago Teachers Union's headquarters at 1901 W. Carroll Ave. Saturday evening. The union for the past three days has been in the process of voting to allow teachers to continue remote education despite schools reopening – so as to prevent what they describe as a health disaster.

CPS called the move an attempt to "cancel in-person learning for tens of thousands" of children, and added that it would amount to, and be treated as, an illegal strike.

Some parents argued suburban and private schools are successfully holding in-person learning, so why not CPS?

While only a handful of parents spoke to the news media, they said many chose to advocate online or out of sight - concerned their children could be retaliated against when they do return to class.

"A lot of people are afraid to speak out," said Sarah Sachen.

Her son, Justin, said he was looking forward to returning to school. He said he misses everything about it, and, "Guess what - I need a break from my mom."

"We love our teachers," said parent Alberto Molina. "I'm confident that they wish to return to in-person learning just as much as their students and parents."

We reached out to the Chicago Teachers Union for comment on this story. They had none.

As for whether parents would be willing to compromise by waiting until teachers could get COVID vaccinations before heading back to class, Torres said that date is too fluid.

"I think every week wasted we cannot get back, there isn't for sure you're going to get it on this date, so that means once again it's a waiting game," she said.

And the parents say they've waited long enough.

CTU leaders have emphasized that they have not taken a vote on authorizing a strike, and said it's only a strike if teachers can't log on. They said some teachers are already locked out.

On Thursday, the CTU at a news conference introduced medical consultant Dr. Vin Gupta, a professor of health metrics and science at the University of Washington-Seattle. Gupta's main point was that the pandemic is out of control and in a state of disaster, and there simply is no safe or "moral" way to hold school in person right now.

"I've been really disappointed to see a movement not only in Chicago, but across the country, essentially leveraging a paycheck and forcing teachers and other adult staff across the country to in-person environments, in the middle of what is an out-of-control pandemic," Gupta said.

The vote on authorizing teachers to work remotely is expected to finish late Saturday night. Results could be announced sometime on Sunday.

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