Mayor Lightfoot Is Right, Chicago Teachers Should Be Back in the Classroom

(The opinions expressed in guest op-eds are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of

I don't ordinarily agree with the policy positions of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but I absolutely agree with her no-holds-barred reaction to the Chicago Teachers Union's (CTU) hasty and haphazard decision to forgo in-person learning, again, due to the arrival of the Omicron variant.

On January 4, CTU members passed a resolution to “to return to remote education during this deadly surge in the absence of safety guarantees from the Mayor's CPS team.”

CTU claims, “The educators of this city want to be in their classrooms with their students. We believe that our city's classrooms are where our students should be. Regrettably, the Mayor and her CPS leadership have put the safety and vibrancy of our students and their educators in jeopardy.”

That could not be further from the truth.

First and foremost, the Omicron variant, although far more transmissible than previous COVID-19 strains, appears to be much less lethal. Based on data from South Africa and Europe, where the Omicron wave has already run its course, the overwhelming majority of those who contracted it experienced light to mild cold-like symptoms.

In other words, despite CTU's hyperbole, Omicron almost assuredly will not create a “deadly surge.” Yes, the arrival of Omicron will likely lead to more cases, but based on data from Europe and South Africa, it is unlikely to create a spike in deaths.

Perhaps Lightfoot was correct when she said CTU “is trying to politicize the pandemic, which is really incredibly sad.”

Second, we know, based on the evidence after the first bout of remote learning, that in-person instruction is far superior to remote learning.

As Mayor Lightfoot said, “We know that when we were fully remote previously, 100,000 of our kids lost contact and would disengage from the system. We saw in the elementary schools the failure rate during remote learning triple from what it was. We saw the trauma and social emotional harm to students across our system.”

The learning loss alone due to the first round of remote learning will have long-lasting consequences for the 300,000 students who attend Chicago Public Schools. Several studies have shown that students who were forced into remote learning in early 2020 experienced a massive academic setback.

Per a recent McKinsey & Company study, “The impact of the pandemic on K-12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year.” Unfortunately, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Many more studies have documented the social-emotional consequences, including a major uptick in teen suicides, as a result of remote learning. At this point, another prolonged stint of remote learning could result in irreversible harm to far too many CPS students.

Mayor Lightfoot is playing hardball with CTU, using all the tools at her disposal to get CTU teachers back in the classroom. On January 5, her office filed a complaint against CTU for engaging in unfair labor practices.

To her credit, Lightfoot has been more than amenable to negotiating with CTU, however, she has maintained her stance that CTU's current decision to return to remote learning is an “illegal strike.”

Nevertheless, Lightfoot succinctly summed up the matter when she said, “Enough is enough. I'm tired of the Groundhog Day appearance of everything that goes on with the Chicago Teachers Union leadership. We need partnership, we don't need conflict right now.”

Bravo, Mayor Lightfoot.

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is a former public school teacher and senior editor at The Heartland Institute.

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