Chicago Schools closed AGAIN and remote learning may not start until Monday

Chicago Public Schools remained closed on Thursday and may not resume for its 350,000 students until Monday after the teacher’s union and city failed to come to an agreement on additional COVID-19 policies Wednesday night.

Thursday marked the second day of what city and public school officials called an ‘illegal strike’ by the Chicago Teachers Union, which voted earlier this week to refuse in-person learning until its demands for more COVID regulations were met. 

The CTU, led by socialist Jesse Sharkey, demanded that the city and Chicago Public Schools ask students to opt into COVID testing in order to come back to in-person classes, as well as provide high quality masks for all. It also called on schools to go remote if 20 per cent of staff were in isolation or in quarantine.

The demands go further than what’s implemented in the New York City and Los Angeles School Districts, the two largest districts in the nation, who have both vowed to avoid any shutdowns due to COVID. 

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez, who has disavowed the strike, said he had no choice but to cancel schools on Thursday and called it a losing day for teachers and parents. 

‘For me, it’s a day of mourning,’ Martinez said in a statement. 

‘I’m sad for how, as a district, we are responding to parents…because parents are losing in this process.’ 

The Chicago Teachers Union, which protested outside City Hall, failed to reach an agreement with the city on Wednesday night, keeping city schools closed on Thursday 


Jesse Sharkey

Mayor Lori Lightfooot

The CTU, led by socialist Jesse Sharkey (left), made demands that all students be tested for COVID-19 before schools can reopen. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school leaders said they would not give into the CTU’s demands 


The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents the third biggest school district in the nation, is demanding even more stringent  COVID regulations than the larger New York City and Los Angeles school districts. CTU is demanding:

  • All students and staff provide negative COVID test before returning to school
  • Regular opt-out testing in school
  • Free high quality masks for students and staff
  • Schools with 20 per cent of staff in isolation or in quarantine to go remote

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has: 

  • Rejected plans to test all students before they return
  • Provided millions of testing kits to schools to test pupils – but refuses to impose opt-out testing  
  • Provided masks to all students and staff
  • Vowed not to shutdown schools

New York City’s rules: 

  • Does not require testing to return to school
  • Does random surveillance testing that is opt-in
  • Provides masks to staff and pupils 
  • Vows not to shut down schools over COVID and no longer quarantines entire classrooms when an outbreak occurs 

Los Angeles’ rules: 

  • Requires students and staff to report negative COVID tests to resume in-person classes 
  • Does random surveillance testing that is opt-in
  • Provides masks to all teachers and staff members. 
  • Has vowed to not shut down schools over COVID

While the union voted for remote working, there is no such system in place, remote devices have not been handed out, and therefore Chicago’s 350,000 students did not receive tuition today. 

Martinez and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have said they would not give into the demands made by the CTU, which is among the most radical in the nation. 

Lightfoot and school leaders assured parents and teachers that schools have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

The city also beefed up its substitute staff, and the city has stacked up on millions of testing kits which it will prioritize on symptomatic and unvaccinated students, who would likely cause additional spread. 

Masks have also been provided to all staff and students, new ventilation systems and HEPA filters have been installed in school buildings, and social distancing policies are still in effect. 

The upgrades were met to combat the COVID Omicron surge and keep schools open as city and school officials recognized the failings of remote-learning.

It also came as Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said COVID was now no worse than the flu and that kids were actually safer in school than being out and about in the city. 

But the CTU continues to reject the city’s compromises.  

‘There are so many things we could partner on,’ Lightfoot said on Wednesday. ‘Instead, they chose an illegal, unilateral action that throws the whole system into chaos and makes us a laughingstock all across the country.’

Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez, who has chided the mayor on everything from public safety to emergency powers, told Politico that the CTU will likely never give in until all their demands are met. 

‘They are on a mission to be obstructionists to this administration in a way that puts me to shame. I can recognize when she does something right, and they refuse to do even that.’ 

The demands from CTU are the most extreme in the nation and do not match what has been advocated by the larger New York City and Los Angeles teachers unions. 

 New York City did away with its policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to COVID-19 in hopes of keeping more kids in school. 

In order to combat Omicron, the school instead opted to ramp up its testing on staff and students who were symptomatic and unvaccinated through its ‘Stay Safe and Stay Open’ policy. 

The city also engages in random surveillance testing to disrupt any asymptomatic spreads. 

The Los Angeles School district, the second largest in the nation, however, has ordered that all students and staff submit negative COVID-19 tests by Sunday in order to safely resume classes next week.

But the district has joined the powerful California Teachers Association in pledging to keep schools open despite the Omicron surge after the state secured millions of testing kits for students. 

Chicago Public Schools could be reopened by Friday on a case-by-case scenario depending on how many active COVID cases there are and how many staff members were in quarantine. 

Lightfoot said teachers who are called in to work on Friday but fail to show up will have their pay docked.  

Most Chicago schools, like the Pulaski International School (pictured), remained closed unti as the CTU continues arguing with the city

Most Chicago schools, like the Pulaski International School (pictured), remained closed unti as the CTU continues arguing with the city

Lightfoot warned that teachers who fail to show up to work on Friday if their schools call upon them will have their pay docked

Lightfoot warned that teachers who fail to show up to work on Friday if their schools call upon them will have their pay docked

The avowed socialist who has shut down Chicago’s schools: Union President Jesse Sharkey fights capitalism – while his father-in-law earns millions as CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises

James Sharkey lives in Rogers Park, Chicago with his wife Julie Fain and their two children who have grown up in the CPS system

James Sharkey lives in Rogers Park, Chicago with his wife Julie Fain and their two children who have grown up in the CPS system 

The union boss at the center of Chicago’s school shutdown firestorm is a longtime labor activist and supporter of socialism, but critics say his lifestyle is more akin to that of the wealthiest 1 percent.

Living in an expansive $1.5 million estate on multiple adjoining lots in Rogers Park, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey is said to drive a Tesla and is married to the daughter of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ recently resigned CEO.

On Tuesday, 52-year-old Sharkey led his union members in a vote to refuse in-person instruction starting immediately, citing concerns over the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

It led to a chaotic total shutdown of schools announced at 11pm the prior night, as the school system said it did not have the systems in place for virtual instruction.

Sharkey, who has led the CTU since 2014, said on Wednesday that teachers would only return to classrooms after the current surge subsides, unless the district agrees to the union’s demands for new testing and health protocols.

‘If you want to get us into the schools quicker, provide testing,’ Sharkey said at a Wednesday news conference.

‘We’ve been failed by the mayor, we’ve been failed by the public health office, and teachers and the school staff have decided the only thing we have control of is whether we go into the buildings.’

Sharkey did not immediately respond to an inquiry from on Wednesday.

The stunning drama in the nation’s third-largest public school system, with an enrollment of more than 350,000, has thrust longtime Chicago activist Sharkey into the national spotlight. 

In the past, Sharkey’s lavish lifestyle has drawn criticism from his opponents, and speculation that his wealthy and decidedly capitalist father-in-law is helping to bankroll his family.

Chicago journalist Mark Konkol wrote in a 2019 column for Patch that Sharkey ‘talks like a working-class tough guy’ but drives a Tesla and lives in a luxurious five-bedroom home.

‘How can a union guy, whose wife works for a socialist non-profit book publisher, live like the wealthiest 1 percent?’ wrote Konkol. 

Raised in central Maine by his mother, a poet and schoolteacher, Sharkey attended Brown University, where he majored in modern American history.

After graduating, Sharkey went into labor organizing with the United Steelworkers in North Carolina, before returning to Brown for a master’s degree in teaching.

While teaching high school social studies in Providence, Rhode Island, Sharkey met his now-wife Julie Fain, the daughter of business executive Richard Fain, who has an estimated net worth of nearly $200 million.

Richard Fain on Monday resigned as CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group after a 33-year tenure, in a move that was part of a succession plan announced in November.

Sharkey's father-in-law Richard Fain (above in 2013) was the third-longest serving CEO among current S&P 500 leaders when he retired on Monday

Sharkey’s father-in-law Richard Fain (above in 2013) was the third-longest serving CEO among current S&P 500 leaders when he retired on Monday

In a statement to Chicago City Wire in 2017, Sharkey said: ‘We don’t choose the family of our loved ones.’

‘I have a lovely wife. We have children. I live in a house in Rogers Park and only have one of them, and I send my kids to public schools,’ he said.

Sharkey and Julie Fain moved together to Chicago, where she worked as an editor for the leftist magazine In These Times before co-founding radical independent book publisher Haymarket Books.

The couple share two children, Caleb – a graduate from Jones College Prep, a public school, and Leo, who was at one point a student at Harriet Tubman elementary school – both Chicago Public Schools.

In a photo obtained by where the family is pictured on a trip to Disneyland, the oldest son is seen wearing a t-shirt with a Mustangs logo – the official name used for sports teams at St Rita of Cascia, a $13,000-a-year private, all-boy’s Catholic school in Chicago. 

Public records show that Sharkey and Fain own a $868,000 home in Rogers Park, and that his wife’s family trust bought the adjacent lot for $625,000 in 2006.

Meanwhile Sharkey continued teaching and became increasingly involved in the teachers union, as well as far-left political groups.

He was a member of the International Socialist Organization, a Trotskyite group that opposes capitalism, until the group dissolved in 2019 over allegations that its leadership mishandled a sexual assault accusation.

From 2008 to 2013, Sharkey was an occasional contributor to the ISO publication

In 2012, when he was vice president of CTU, Sharkey appeared shaken when his attendance at the Midwest Marxism Conference was raised in an interview on local radio station WLS-AM.

‘Every time unions have raised issues about what’s fair and what isn’t, and equality, people have branded them as Communists,’ Sharkey replied. 

In 2019, Sharkey landed in hot water again when a group of Chicago teachers calling themselves a ‘Chicago Teachers Union delegation’ met with officials in socialist Venezuela.

The four teachers documented their trip online and heaped praise on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose administration was accused in United Nations reports of ‘grave’ human rights violations.

Sharkey downplayed the incident and tried to distance the union from the controversy.

‘Members go all kinds of places in the summer,’ he told WTTW at the time.

School districts nationwide have grappled with the same issue, with most opting to stay open while ramping up virus testing, tweaking protocols and making other real-time adjustments in response to the shifting pandemic. 

Many Chicago public school students live on or below the poverty line, with analysis repeatedly showing poorer children are most likely to fall behind with remote learning.

Meanwhile, CDC data shows just 803 children aged 0 to 18 have been killed by COVID since the start of the pandemic in the US. 

As of Wednesday night, 9,000 students and 2,300 staff members were either in isolation or quarantine because they came in close contact with someone with COVID.

About 91% of Chicago teachers are fully vaccinated and half of students aged 12 and older.

The Chicago closure came after parents slammed the socialist leader of the Chicago Teachers Union after he today defended the last minute decision to shutter schools by claiming ‘going in puts students and families at risk.’ 

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey held a Zoom press conference on Wednesday to defend the union’s vote to cancel in person classes at 11pm Tuesday and move to remote learning over COVID fears. 

Sharkey said: ‘Right now going into schools puts us at risk, puts our students and families at risk. We’re in the middle of a dangerous surge. We don’t think bars should be open.’ 

He claimed that the city’s safety plan to return to in-person learning was ‘fairly inadequate.’ 

Just 400 positive COVID cases were reported Tuesday morning, with about 70% students and 30% staff. 

There are 350,000 pupils in Chicago schools. 

Parents were quick to criticize Sharkey and the union.      

‘You’re using our children as leverage. Parents are the ones to decide if it’s safe to send our children to school. This is a disgraceful power move,’ one said on Twitter in response to his press conference. 

‘If I got to vote to stay home in my warm house you bet your ass I would,’ another said.

‘Every single one of the teachers who don’t show for in class teaching should immediately be fired,’ quipped another.   

‘So if you’re a fully vaccinated and boosted teacher, and wear a mask all day, it’s not safe to go to work? Just tying to understand for the all teachers outside of Chicago that are back at school. Can you scientifically describe your risk vs outside the City’s border?’ another asked. 

President Trump slammed the teachers too, saying: ‘What is happening in Chicago with all the school closures is devastating. 

‘Democrats are congregating en masse tomorrow to fan the flames of a divide that THEY created, while our kids sit at home watching their futures vanish. It must stop. 

‘Educate our children in person or give every dollar spent on education directly to the students so they can get out of these failing government schools!   

The union’s late night decision on Tuesday to close schools caused utter chaos for parents on Wednesday. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned that teachers who failed to turn up would be docked pay after the Chicago Teachers Union said 73% of its members endorsed the action.

Public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady held a news conference on Tuesday to scotch claims that chidden were in danger by being at school. 

‘One of the things I’m hearing the most misinformation about is that Chicago hospitals are filling up with children, that many Chicago children are dying of COVID,’ Arwady said.

‘That is being driven by unvaccinated adults. Child COVID hospitalizations remain very rare. 

‘Across the whole city, approximately 550,000 children, we are averaging just seven COVID hospitalizations a day right now for children aged zero to 17.

‘If you’re vaccinated, if you’re child is vaccinated, this is behaving like the flu and we don’t close school districts, especially for extended periods of time, for the flu.’   

Lightfoot said: ‘If we pause, what do we say to those parents who can’t afford to hire somebody to come in and watch their kids, who can’t ship their kids off to some other place, what do we say to those students who are already struggling?’ 

‘We need to lean in to the science and the data and not push that to the side and give in to fear-mongering and hysteria,’ she insisted. 

The mayor also said she feared the delayed reopening would stretch on past the January 18 date planned by CTU leaders.  

The CTU demanded that students and staff members provided a negative COVID-19 test result before entering buildings on Monday.          

The union also wants daily health questionnaires to be reinstated, free masks for all staff and students and wants schools to shift to remote learning if 20% or more of staff is in isolation or quarantine. 

The head of Chicago Public Schools, Pedro Martinez, is distributing  200,000 KN95 masks for teachers and staff, requiring indoor mask-wearing in schools and weekly testing is mandatory for unvaccinated staff members and optional for students. 

Martinez has bent over backwards to meet the union’s demands. 

The mayor said that CTU Sharkey denied Martinez’s request to delay the vote in order to allow officials to present an updated safety plan for returning in person.   

‘The worst thing we can do is to shut the entire system down. What we need to be focused on is working together,’ Lightfoot said. 

‘What I’d love to see CTU do is not force an illegal work stoppage. What I’d love to see them do is work hand-in-glove with us to get kids and their families vaccinated.’ 

Martinez has proposed that a school would move to virtual instruction if at least 40% of its classroom teachers are absent for two consecutive days due to COVID and schools would resume in-person instruction after five to 10 school days.

He is also restoring health screeners and temperature checks to allow entry into buildings. 

However, these measures were insufficient for the teachers’ union and they voted to stay at home.   

‘This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety,’ the union said in a statement.

However, district officials blamed the union for the late cancellation, saying despite safety measures, including a high teacher vaccination rate, ‘our teachers are not willing to report to work.’

‘We are deeply concerned about this decision but even more concerned about its impact on the health, safety, and well-being of our students and families,’ the district said in a statement. 

Chicago teacher battling cancer REFUSES to stop in-person classes and slams union for using kids as a ‘political tool’ by cancelling classes for a second day over COVID fears: ‘I want my life to be relevant right now’ 

A Chicago teacher battling cancer is refusing to stop in-person classes despite the city’s union cancelling them. 

Joseph Ocol said last night that he wants to ‘make my life relevant somehow’ and slammed Chicago Teachers’ Union for using pupils as a ‘political tool’.

There will be a second-day of no lessons for 350,000 children in the city today and it looks unlikely that even a remote option will be available until Monday at the earliest.      

The CTU, lead by socialist Jesse Sharkey, closed down the entire school system over COVID fears despite Public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady saying it was no worse than the flu and that kids are perfectly safe.   

Mr Ocol told Tucker Carlson Tonight: ‘I joined the Chicago public schools as a teacher first and foremost and I believe my role should be inside the classroom with my students. 

‘I did not join CPS to be a union member.

‘Despite my battling cancer, I still have a role to play right now. I just want to make my life relevant somehow. The thought that I can still be of service to my students and I can touch their lives and make a difference in their lives.’

He slammed the CTU for using pupils as political pawns in their fight with Lori Lightfoot, who they did not back.   

‘I believe that there are ways to fight City Hall. You don’t dangle the plight of the kids in the middle of the fight just to seek your demands.

‘There are other ways. I have nothing against the union. But I have something against people using the union as a tool for political gain.’

He warned that remote learning is harmful to children and parents.   

Joseph Ocol (pictured), teacher and chess coach, said last night that he wants to 'make my life relevant somehow' by continuing to teach classes

Joseph Ocol (pictured), teacher and chess coach, said last night that he wants to ‘make my life relevant somehow’ by continuing to teach classes 

‘I have done the remote learning for more than a year with the students. I have seen the limitations and the challenges that a teacher has with remote learning. It’s not really effective.

‘I feel it’s not also fair to the parents. The parents need to be with the students when they should be earning a living.’

Ocol said none of his pupils have COVID and urged the union to consider reopening in-person learning on a ‘school by school basis’ instead of instituting ‘sweeping’ closures.

‘There are schools without COVID. I have 82 students in my classroom and I am not aware of anyone having COVID. I am not aware of a teacher having COVID in my school. 

‘So I think the union has to it look at this on a school to school basis. It should not be in a sweeping way because this is unfair to the students and to the parents.”      

Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said at a Wednesday evening news conference that ‘we have no choice but to cancel classes tomorrow.’ 

CTU is demanding that the COVID testing program is expanded and made mandatory for pupils.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last night it would be ‘morally repugnant’ to take the decision out of parents’ hands and called COVID testing a ‘quasi-medical procedure’. 

Lightfoot said: ‘I will not allow them to take our children hostage. Why are we here again when we know that the safest place for our children is in school? Why are we here again when we know that our schools are safe? 

‘If you care about our students, if you care about our families, as we do, we will not relent. Enough is enough. We are standing firm and we are going to fight to get our kids back to in-person learning. Period. Full stop.’ 

The CTU has vowed to work remotely from Wednesday to January 18 unless a safety agreement with CPS is reached or the omicron-fueled COVID-19 surge subsides.  

As of Wednesday night, 9,000 students and 2,300 staff members were either in isolation or quarantine because they came in close contact with someone with COVID. 

About 91% of Chicago teachers are fully vaccinated and half of students aged 12 and older.      

Students returned to class Monday after a two-week winter break with COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations fueled by the omicron variant at record levels.  

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