President Biden declined to tell Chicago teachers on Monday to return to school following a union vote over the weekend to defy a district order for educators to return to campuses in order to prepare to resume in-person classroom instruction.
“It’s not so much about the idea of teachers aren’t going to work. The teachers I know, they want to work,” he said. “They just want to work in a safe environment and…as safe as we can rationally make it. And we can do that.”
Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the nation, wanted around 10,000 kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers and other staffers to return to prepare to welcome roughly 70,000 students back to class on Feb.1.
The union has said the district’s safety plan falls short. Coronavirus vaccinations would need to be more widespread and different metrics to measure infections would also need to be implemented before the return of teachers and staff.
In response, the union thanked Biden for his remarks, saying it was “Exactly what educators have been saying.”
“Thank you, President Biden. Exactly what educators have been saying, and responses from parents have shown since last March,” a union tweet read.
The move to defy the school district is in contrast to Biden’s pledge to reopen schools in his first 100 days as president. He’s asked for $130 billion to assist K-12 schools in reopening as part of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan.
The School district also weighed in on Biden’s comments about COVID-19 testing and protocols to ensure a safe environment.
“We couldn’t agree more,” the district tweeted while touting investments in coronavirus testing, cleaning and sanitizing and ventilation and air purification.
The de facto strike violates a 2019 collective bargaining agreement the bars strikes, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The union vote prompted the district to delay the teachers’ return until Wednesday to ensure “we have the time needed to resolve our discussions without risking disruption to student learning, ” the district said.
School officials have argued that remote learning isn’t working for all students, including many low income and Black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. The district’s safety plan includes thousands of air purifiers, more cleaning and a voluntary testing program.
“Students in over 130 private and parochial schools and over 2,000 early learning centers across the city have been safely learning in their classrooms since the fall, and we must provide that same option to our families who, through no fault of their own, have been unable to make remote learning work for their children,” the district said in a statement over the weekend. “We’ve seen grades, attendance, and enrollment drop significantly for many of our students in recent months, and the impact has been felt most by our Black and Latinx students.”
Fox News’ Greg Norman as well as The Associated Press contributed to this report.