Chicago School Closures Leave Parents Divided: 'A Catastrophic Failure'

Parents in Chicago were divided as classes were canceled for a second day in a row after the teachers' union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration failed to agree on how to keep schools open amid an Omicron-fueled surge in virus cases.

Just two days after students returned from winter break, the Chicago Teachers Union voted to revert to remote instruction in the nation's third-largest school district.

Chicago Public Schools responded by canceling classes altogether on Wednesday. Classes were canceled again on Thursday after no agreement was reached on Wednesday evening.

District officials have blasted the union's move as an "illegal strike" and insist that schools are safe for students with protocols in place. The union argues that those protocols are far from adequate, and is calling for a negative test result to return to school and for the in-school weekly testing program to be expanded.

But while some parents are adamant that schools must stay open, others back the union's stance that virtual classes are the better option until the current COVID-19 surge subsides.

Natasha Dunn, whose daughter is a seventh grader at Harriet Tubman Elementary School, branded the situation "a catastrophic failure."

She expressed concern about the detrimental effect remote learning will have on students and the burden it places on working parents.

"It's really difficult for me to really be able to pay attention to my daughter's learning needs and work full time," she told Jake Tapper during an appearance on CNN's The Lead. "I feel like this was a catastrophic failure."

Dunn said the teachers' union was "completely reckless" to force the entire district to switch to remote learning when mitigation strategies are in place. "I'm not saying that all schools are perfect, but it does not resonate to the point where you should interrupt the learning of over 300,000 students and 500 schools across the district," she said.

Dunn also argued that reverting to remote instruction would exacerbate racial inequities that existed before the pandemic, a point Lightfoot has also stressed.

"What we know right now is that remote learning was a catastrophic failure, specifically for Black students across the country," she said. "Our students were behind before the pandemic. And when I tell you this pandemic has really put us in a state of emergency, it actually has. And so while we have people who are fighting to keep the schools closed, there's nobody fighting to close the gaps that persisted before the pandemic."

Other parents shared the concerns about the negative impact of another period of remote learning on students.

Children "need the interaction with their peers," Vanessa Chavez, the mother of three middle schoolers, told the Chicago Tribune. "To have the rug pulled out from under them again, it's got the potential to be catastrophic."

But Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, the alderman for Chicago's 35th Ward, said his office has heard from parents who support remote learning during the current surge.

"In my ward, working class moms in Hermosa have been most vocal on this issue," Ramirez-Rosa tweeted. "They've seen their friends, family & coworkers die of COVID. They know the risks. They're choosing safety & life."

Valencia Reasnover, whose teenage daughter recently endured a tough bout of COVID-19 that she believes was contracted at school, is among those who thinks classes should be remote until the number of COVID-19 cases falls.

"The fact that you all don't have remote options for students who [sic] parents don't want to send them back is mind blowing to me," she wrote in a Facebook post tagging Chicago Public Schools earlier this week. "There's more substitutes than teachers, these schools are not being cleaned properly, and some parents are sending their kids to school sick and all. I'm so over CPS!"

Sign displayed at Chicago Public Schools HQ
A sign is displayed at the entrance of the headquarters for Chicago Public Schools on January 5, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images