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Chicago families grit their teeth as officials clash with the teachers’ union over virus precautions.

todayJanuary 7, 2022

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Most public schools in Chicago were closed for a third day on Friday, with no resolution in sight to a standoff between the teachers’ union in the nation’s third-largest school district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration.

Around the country, school systems are wrestling with how to go back to class amid the highly contagious Omicron variant. But nowhere has the situation been more rancorous than in Chicago, where school for hundreds of thousands of children resumed on Monday but then stopped abruptly by Wednesday, as teachers called for more virus precautions and testing while city officials said the school year should proceed in person.

Interviews across Chicago with families of schoolchildren revealed a wide range of views on what should happen next.

Shifting back to remote school, at least for a bit, is what Alejandra Martinez sees as the best way to keep her family safe.

Over the holidays, she said, her entire family contracted the virus after her youngest son, a preschooler, was exposed. She said she worried that a return to school might bring new cases of the virus; she was especially concerned about another son, a first grader with asthma, as well as the boys’ grandmother, who lives next door.

Ms. Martinez, who stays at home with her children, said she had the time and resources to help her children with their studies if they were to go back online.

The downside, she said, is that her sons complain about missing their classmates and teachers in online school. But she said she preferred that to the possibility that a loved one would become gravely ill.

Teachers, Ms. Martinez said, deserve the support of families.

“They’re running multiple jobs that are not their job title,” Ms. Martinez said. “Being nurses, being counselors, being a therapist. Being a second parent to these kids, and sometimes their only parent.”

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