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Your kid might not return to a classroom this year. Are teachers unions to blame?

Erin Richards, USA TODAY |

Almost three out of four urban districts are still offering only online instruction, according to a new report from the Center on Reinventing Education at the University of Washington. And some districts that have recently gotten some kids back to schools are facing major pushback from unions, predominantly around safety measures and the spike in COVID-19 infection rates in the community.

In Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third largest district, the teachers union voted to continue to work from home rather than report to school buildings Monday — a move that effectively defied the city’s reopening plan after a slim majority of union members approved the resolution over the weekend.

Leaders of Baltimore City Public Schools announced a plan to open classrooms for the youngest children on Feb. 16, followed by older elementary students as well as ninth and 12th graders on March 1st. Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises said more than half of third through 12th graders have failed a class this year during remote learning, and the district can’t wait for all teachers to be vaccinated before opening buildings. The Baltimore Teachers Union protested that move, saying they want the district to provide a COVID-19 testing plan, a nursing plan and new ventilation assessments for all classrooms.  

New York City’s mayor and teachers union also battled over reopening schools. Young students and those with significant disabilities were given the option to return to classrooms last month, but as virus rates crept up again in January, the union has raised concerns about safety. Determined to keep schools open, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has said the availability of the vaccine will help more teachers and students return to class. But fewer than 350,000 of the 800,000 vaccine doses delivered to New York City have been administered so far, the United Federation of Teachers reported in a story last week.

Susan Solomon, president of the San Francisco Teachers Union, said local rates of transmission are still too high to reopen and that the district has not yet committed to enough testing for staff and students. “Staff are doing all we can to provide instruction and social/emotional supports to our students and their families, and we want very much to return to in-person instruction with our students when it is safe,” she said in a statement.

District officials say the union is making new requests, such as holding off on returning until rates of virus transmission drop below what the school board and state and local health orders are willing to allow.

Read the full article at USA Today.

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