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National Review

Biden Backs Chicago Teachers Refusing to Return to School: ‘I Know They Want to Work’

President Joe Biden on Monday expressed support for the Chicago Teachers Union in its fight against reopening schools for in-person learning, saying, “I know they want to work.” The CTU voted Monday to defy the city school district and continue to work remotely. “They just want to work in a safe environment, and as safe as we can rationally make it, and we can do that,” Biden said. Biden’s comments came in response to a question about the union at a news conference after an event on American manufacturing, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. White House staffers were reportedly briefed about the ongoing standoff in the nation’s third-largest district by American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten. Asked if teachers should return to school, the president said, “we should make school classrooms safe and secure for the students, for the teachers and for the help that is in those schools maintaining those facilities.” The president added, “we should be able to open up every, every school, kindergarten through eighth grade, if in fact we administer these tests, and we’ll have the added advantage I might add, a putting millions of people back to work.” Biden did not mention Chicago or Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot in his response. He said widespread testing and functioning ventilation systems are key to reopening schools – both of which have fueled disagreements between Chicago Public Schools officials and the CTU, which is a local affiliate of the AFT. Weingarten said the White House is “really concerned about reopening and really concerned about doing it right.” “I felt it was my moral obligation to brief the White House this weekend, which I did,” she said, adding that she briefed Biden senior staffers on “what was going on in Chicago, from my perspective.” She indicated she was “very pleased” with his comments on Monday. Politically powerful national teachers unions make up a key part of Biden’s base. First Lady Jill Biden along with Weingarten and National Education Association President Becky Pringle held a virtual event with 11,000 teachers last week. About 70,000 elementary school students are scheduled to return to in-person learning on February 1 for the first time since schools closed in March 2020, according to the Chicago Public School’s coronavirus reopening plan. Around 10,000 elementary school teachers and staff were expected to report to work on Monday to prepare for the reopening. However, CTU members voted to stay at home due to disagreements with CPS over the reopening plan. Eighty-six percent of all CTU members cast ballots with 71 percent opting to continue to work from home. The union is advocating for members with medically vulnerable relatives at home to receive accommodations for remote work and for teachers to only be required to return to in-person instruction upon receiving a vaccination. It is also pushing for increased testing of staff and students as well as a public health metric that would determine when schools should reopen or close. Union members said they were encouraged to hear Biden’s comments on the situation, according to the Sun-Times. CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said Biden “is not taking sides” but is “prioritizing the safety of every stakeholder in every city in every state in this country.”

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