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‘Kids got to go to school,’ Chicago parent on student’s return to classrooms

Chicago Public School students returned to their schools on Wednesday (January 12) a day after teachers reached an agreement on COVID-19 safeguards with the district, ending a walkout that canceled classes across the third largest school system in the United States for a week.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted on Monday night to end a weeklong walkout over COVID-19 fears. The walkout began with a union vote to reinstate virtual instruction and a push for more rigorous safety protocols, including wider testing, as the Omicron variant spread.

Parents interviewed outside schools on Wednesday were happy their children back in classrooms, and socializing in person with their friends.

“I’m glad they’re back, it’s good to get them out of the house,” said parent Jason Stratton.

“It was really tough staying at home for almost a year last year and it really hurt a lot of kids socially,” added Stratton.

Parent Anastasia Borzenkova, said she felt is was safe for her child to return to school.

“It’s safer for them to be in school versus somewhere outside and I completely agree with that,” said Borzenkova.

While most U.S. public school districts have reopened their campuses for the new year, education systems in some major cities have opted for online learning or delayed back-to-classroom plans due to staff shortages, in some cases caused by COVID illnesses.

The United States reported 1.35 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, the highest daily total for any country in the world as the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant showed no signs of slowing.

The seven-day average of cases in Chicago showed indications of a decrease last week, dropping 8% since the week prior that saw 5,200 cases. While the third largest U.S. city has seen a spike in cases, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has pushed for schools to remain open.

The city’s dispute with teachers was tense. Lightfoot and the district had branded the walkout illegal and said teachers’ pay would be docked. The union had accused the mayor and school officials of “locking out” teachers by freezing their online instruction platforms.

Yesterday, (January 11) Chicago’s mayor announced on Twitter she had tested positive and wrote that she would “continue to work from home while following the CDC guidelines for isolation.”

The agreement calls for increased testing and contact tracing in schools, creates metrics for the district to go remote and includes a commitment to secure additional KN95 masks for staff and students, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“I feel good, it’s better than them staying home with nothing to do,” said parent Fenton Chau on Wednesday.

“There are merits on both sides of the argument, but kids have to go to school.”

(Production: Eric Cox, Soren Larson)

(Production: Eric Cox, Soren Larson)

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