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Chicago schools and teachers could be headed to a showdown over in-person classes

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In Chicago today, public school teachers may vote to refuse to continue teaching in person. This could lead to a showdown with both the mayor and school district officials. From member station WBEZ, Sarah Karp reports.

SARAH KARP, BYLINE: Chicago teachers argue that the school district is failing to stand up a comprehensive COVID-19 testing program and say without one, their classes could explode with positive cases. Briana Hambright-Hall is a school counselor at Park Manor Elementary.

BRIANA HAMBRIGHT-HALL: Please listen, Mayor Lightfoot and her CPS team. When is enough enough?

KARP: After a December spike in COVID-19 cases at the school, she and her colleagues refused to teach in the building yesterday, what was supposed to be their first day back after winter break. Later today, 25,000 teacher union members will vote on whether to follow her school's lead in defiance of the district. That could leave the mayor and district officials with a tough option - letting teachers go remote for a few weeks or lock them out of virtual classes, dock their pay and shut down the school system entirely. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaking on CNBC yesterday, dug in on keeping the schools open. She says when students were remote last year, learning plummeted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LORI LIGHTFOOT: We know that the mental health and trauma issues of our students was real.

KARP: Lightfoot's stance is similar to that of New York City's new mayor, who's also pushing hard against going full remote. But districts in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee say they'll either delay reopening amid the surge or that they'll be remote for a short period of time. CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates accuses the mayor and school district of only responding to sweeping measures.

STACY DAVIS GATES: But they don't react like, my bad. Let me help you out. They react with you're wrong. Let us punish you.

KARP: Davis Gates says most teachers don't like remote teaching and do want to be back in the classroom with their students. They just don't think it's safe right now.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Karp in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE'S "MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.