Chicago officials canceled classes for hundreds of thousands of public school students for three days in a row this week, after reaching an impasse with the city's teachers union over whether in-person learning is safe amid the wave of COVID-19 infections.
City leadership, including Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, had asked teachers to continue in-classroom instruction, but 88% of the Chicago Teachers Union's leadership and 73% of its members voted on Tuesday in favor of remote education.
Immediately after the vote, officials canceled all in-person and virtual classes on Wednesday. They announced Wednesday night that instruction will be canceled again on Thursday.
On Thursday evening, the city announced another day of cancellations for Friday, but added, "A small number of schools may be able to offer in-person activities for students."
"Please do not plan to send your child to school unless you hear otherwise from your child's principal," Chicago Public Schools tweeted.
The disruption for students marked an escalation in the ongoing debates between officials and teachers about pandemic protocols. Teachers said their decision on remote learning was an attempt to safely instruct their students amid the current wave of COVID-19 infections. Officials accused teachers of not following medical guidance.
"I'm urging teachers. Show up to your schools. Your kids need you," Lightfoot said on Twitter.
Many teachers who attempted to log into their remote-learning systems on Wednesday found themselves locked out, according to the union.
"We are being inundated with calls and emails this morning from educators who attempted to log into their platforms to connect with their students and teach remotely, and safely, but are being locked out by Mayor Lightfoot," union officials said on Twitter Wednesday morning.
Chicago, like the rest of the country, has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks that has been driven by the omicron variant, health officials said.
The seven-day average of new daily cases reported skyrocketed from 726 on Nov. 30 to 5,047 on Jan. 2, the Chicago Health Department said. The seven-day average for hospitalizations during that period jumped from 51 to 113, the data showed.
As of Thursday evening, 64.9% of all residents have received two vaccine doses, according to the city's health department.