Cook County judge ignores COVID-19 science; allows Cicero teachers to stay home

Students in District 99 Daniel Burnham School in happier times

Students in District 99 Daniel Burnham School in happier times

Could it be a sign of things to come if Chicago Public Schools seek a court order for CTU teachers to return to the classroom?

Cook Court Circuit Court Judge Raymond Mitchell sets a new anti-science standard by ruling that Cicero teachers can refuse to go to work in the classroom.

In a suit brought by Cicero School District No. 99, his honor concluded he was not persuaded by the science that finds that in-classroom instruction is safe. The school district had sought a temporary injunction against the union as a step toward the district’s re-opening of classroom instruction as part of a blended hybrid model. The members of West Suburban Teachers Union, Local 571, have been “teaching” remotely since March, meaning that their 11,000 pre-K to 8 students have been denied a quality education for almost a year.

The decision would complicate any legal action that the Chicago Public Schools takes to seek a court order directing that Chicago Teachers Union members to return to work as required by their contract or to prevent a threatened illegal strike.

Here’s Mitchell’s ruling:

Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the teachers’ continuation of remote instruction–a policy that the District itself instituted–constitutes the sort of danger to public health and safety that warrants the extraordinary relief that it seeks here. To be sure, as a matter of commonsense, I can accept the premise that in-person teaching in (sic) preferable to remote learning, just as I can accept the notion that in-person court proceeding are preferable to remote proceedings. But I also recognize that there are countervailing public health considerations that prompted us to restore to remote proceedings in the first instance. We are all anxious to return to “normal,” but maintaining the status quo relative to remote learning while teachers are vaccinated hardly seems an exigent circumstance requiring injunctive relief. The balancing of the equities weighs heavily against wanting the relief Plaintiff seeks. Finally, Plaintiff has already filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board raising these same issues, and that is the appropriate forum for the resolution of this type of labor dispute.

The point about the labor board being the proper venue to settle the dispute may or may not be right–I’m not qualified to say. But the point about the “balancing of equities” between the harm done to the teachers by returning and the harm done to the students by being kept out of school is so far off the mark as to be laughable.

The district has been in repeated negotiations with the union and has spent $64,000 on new HIVAC and other improvements in response to the union’s demands, as detailed in 1,000 pages of documentation. In a number of walkthroughs allowing the union to inspect the improvements, district accepted many of the union’s recommendations.

“Despite numerous steps” the district took to ensure teachers’ safety, the union instructed teachers that they could stay home and not have to meet the district’s Jan. 11 deadline for return to work. The 500 that stayed home were notified that they were subjected to “disciplinary action.” (More details of the district’s continuing attempt to enforce the teachers’ contract and the unions continued resistance are detailed here in the district’s legal complaint.)

Mitchell obviously ignored the many threats of “imminent harm to the health and safety of the students.” The complaint notes that about 95 percent of its students are low-income and 95 percent come from bilingual or “English learning households.”  There also are a “significant number” of special education students.

According to the 15-page complaint:

As has ben widely reported, students that come from less advantaged backgrounds are more likely to fall behind in their learning in a remote learning setting.

Students are performing far below grade level and there is a lack of access too hands-on curriculum and specialized equipment.

In addition to academic issues, there is a wide variety of social emotional and functional behavioral skills that will be regressed, delayed, or simply not established.

As just a few examples, there is a lack of peer role models and interactions, students often experience social withdrawal leading to isolation, regression of learned skills, delayed recoupment of lost kills, decrease of social interactions with peers and adults often resorts to an increase in behavioral concerns, isolation from peers leading to depression and suicidal fixations, lack of access to daily routines, and parents do not have the resources of training to implement functional behavior plans with fidelity.

The complaint goes on to described the problems experienced by the nearly 400 early childhood learners for 3 to 5 years old, many of whom risk academic failure. The 134 special education students likewise are denied the advanced assistance they can’t get at home.

The district could have covered the judge’s bench with piled-high studies of the damage that remote learning causes students, not to mention their parents and families. I suspect he would have ignored those to. Or as he said, he is not persuaded that remote learning is more harmful to students than the wrongs that would be suffered by teachers if they returned to class.

The temptation here is to describe the judge’s ruling to be a consequence of the pervasive control of government by public employe unions. But I won’t suggest that Mitchell’s decision is a result of that unholy alliance.

Suffice it to say that Mitchell’s shameful decision stands alone on its own merits as insufferably harmful to Cicero’s students.


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  • "The temptation here is to describe the judge's ruling to be a consequence of the pervasive control of government by public employe [sic] unions. But I won't suggest that Mitchell's decision is a result of that unholy alliance."

    Thanks for the above example of the rhetorical device called an 'apophasis' or a 'paralipsis.

    To quote Wikipedia: "It can be employed to raise an ad hominem or otherwise controversial attack while disclaiming responsibility for it, as in, 'I refuse to discuss the rumor that my opponent is a drunk.'
    This can make it a favored tactic in politics."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Okay, I shouldn't have used that rhetorical device. That leaves me with the remainder of the post: On its own the decision is poorly argued, wrong, shameful and destructive.

  • What is the difference between Trump not following the science and judges and teachers unions not following the science? Every study in the US and Europe says in person learning is safe and children are suffering from remote learning. Who’s not following the science?

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    The difference is that in not following the science Trump may have been responsible for hundreds of thousands Americans needlessly losing their lives to the pandemic.

  • If the Cicero School District is as confident as you are that Judge Mitchell erred, they will appeal it to the Appellate Court.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I hope it does.

  • Indeed, jnorto. Wonder why Dennis forgot to mention this.

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