The longer schools remain closed because of COVID-related issues, the more Democrats are feeling the pressure from weary parents who are fed up with the closures and remote learning. The New York Times reported that Democrats are concerned that school closing will hurt them politically.
Chicago Public Schools have been closed since Wednesday because 73% of the Chicago Teachers Union voted on Tuesday against returning to the classroom and only teaching remotely. The school district accused the teachers union of staging an illegal walkout.
On Thursday, seven parents of Chicago Public Schools students launched a lawsuit against the Chicago Teachers Union. The parents are calling this week’s school closures an “illegal strike.” The parents are demanding the teachers return for in-person learning.
The Chicago Public Schools system was projected to receive $2.79 billion in federal aid from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that is intended to help schools safely reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Approximately 500 Oakland Unified School District teachers staged a “sickout” on Friday, forcing the closure of 12 schools. The teachers “held a car caravan to demand more COVID-19 safety measures from the district, including two weeks of remote learning and mass distribution of N95 masks, amid a recent spike in cases fueled by the omicron variant,” according to the Mercury News.
Milwaukee Public School board members voted on Thursday to wait until Jan. 18 to return to in-person learning after 17% of teachers, staff, and students tested positive for COVID-19.
Amy Mizialko, Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president, warned that Democrats are asking too much of educators during the latest COVID-19 surge.
“I anticipate it’ll be a fight,” Mizialko told the New York Times.
“I think that Joe Biden and Miguel Cardona and the newly elected mayor of New York City and Lori Lightfoot — they can all declare that schools will be open,” Mizialko added. “But unless they have hundreds of thousands of people to step in for educators who are sick in this uncontrolled surge, they won’t be.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) lashed out at the city’s teacher’s union this week for not returning to the classroom, “We will not pay you for an unlawful, unilateral strike. We will not pay you to abandon your post and your children at a time when they and their families need us most,” Lightfoot declared.
Democrats are fretting that another school year interrupted by closures, distance learning, and uncertainty could hurt them in future elections.
“Because they have close ties to the unions, Democrats are concerned that additional closures like those in Chicago could lead to a possible replay of the party’s recent loss in Virginia’s governor race,” the New York Times reported. “Polling showed that school disruptions were an important issue for swing voters who broke Republican — particularly suburban white women.”
Jim Hobart, a partner at polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, told the Times that school closures helped Republican candidates close the gap with Democrats in the demographic of white women between the ages of mid-20s and mid-50s.
Hobart also noted that when Democratic leadership can’t keep schools open it makes them appear incompetent to voters.
“A lot of people — Biden, Mayor Lightfoot in Chicago — have said schools should be open,” Hobart said. “If they’re not able to prevent schools from choosing to close, that shows a weakness on their part.”
Brian Stryker, a partner at the polling firm ALG Research, told the outlet, “It’s a big deal in most state polling we do. Anyone who thinks this is a political problem that stops at the Chicago city line is kidding themselves. This is going to resonate all across Illinois, across the country.”