Watch CBS News

Parents torn as Chicago teachers battle the city over returning to in-person learning

Chicago teachers union rebukes mayor
Chicago teachers union refuses mayor's orders to return to classrooms 02:22

With a strike looming, members of the Chicago Teachers Union were in cars on Saturday to show why they may not be in class on Monday. The union has been battling with the city over the safety of returning to classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic, with the union arguing that it's not safe for teachers to return until they're vaccinated. 

That means recess will still be confined to Bridgett White's backyard. Like so many other families, her dining room doubles as a classroom — and she said she's "very frustrated" by the current situation. 

Her daughter Brianna is in seventh grade and her son Tristan is in fifth. Neither have been back to school since March 2020. 

"You got this one side saying one thing, you have this other side saying another thing, and you are in the middle," White said. 

An angry Mayor Lori Lightfoot lashed out Friday night, and vowed kindergarten through eighth grade kids will be back in the classroom Monday — despite a breakdown in talks with the teachers.

"[Union] leadership has failed and left us with a big bag of nothing," Lightfoot said. 

Union leaders say Lightfoot blew up negotiations after 70 sessions without an agreement on issues like testing, vaccinations, ventilation and protecting vulnerable people who live with teachers.

"They aren't going to accomplish with bullying and threats what they can't accomplish by looking at us and trying to make rational agreements with us," said union president Jesse Sharkey. "We're teachers, we understand how bullying works."

This week, the CDC said in-person classes can be held safely, and President Biden said he wants all schools in the country to reopen in the next three months.

But what's happening here in Chicago shows just how difficult that might be.

The city said it has put millions into safety improvements like air purifiers and plastic dividers in every classroom.  

But White said she's most concerned about the political divide and what it will mean for her family. "As a parent you are waiting day by day," she said. "Is this the day my child won't have any learning at all?" 

White said she understands the safety concerns, and will keep her children in remote learning for now — but she's wondering what they're learning about being caught in the middle.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.