Chicago public health commissioner blasts school closures brought on by teachers union: ‘I’m disappointed’

The commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health made clear Wednesday she was not happy with the Chicago Teachers Union’s continued refusal to return to in-person learning this week over COVID-19 concerns, arguing schools should be “first to open, last to close.” 

During an appearance on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight,” commissioner Allison Arwady expressed her worry that the decision for schools to stay closed would continue despite them not being a source of major transmission of the coronavirus. 

“I’m disappointed that this is where we are. I know we are in the middle of a big COVID surge. It’s important that we do the things that we know work, but what we’ve seen over and over again is that with the appropriate protocols in place, schools are not major sources of transmission of COVID,” Arwady told host Don Lemon. 

Chicago public health commissioner Allison Arwady appears on CNN's

Chicago public health commissioner Allison Arwady appears on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” alongside host Don Lemon – January 5, 2022 (Screenshot/CNN)

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“They don’t drive outbreaks, and we’ve seen Chicago public schools, just like our non-public schools in Chicago, do a good job of implementing those [protocols]. So we know people are worried, we just want to get back,” she added. 

Arwady explained that her public health team found data showing hospitalizations for COVID and the flu were comparable amongst children in a typical year, and that those who were actually being hospitalized across the city were adults who had not been vaccinated or boosted. 

She also noted they compared data on public school children who were attending school remotely to data on private school children who were attending school in-person and found that the children, as well as staff, going in-person with coronavirus protocols in place were actually at lower risk of contracting the virus.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 13: Chicago Public School teachers, parents and students protest in the neighborhood of Mayor Lori Lightfoot on September 13, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The group called on the mayor and school district to, among other things, offer a remote-learning option for students too young to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 13: Chicago Public School teachers, parents and students protest in the neighborhood of Mayor Lori Lightfoot on September 13, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The group called on the mayor and school district to, among other things, offer a remote-learning option for students too young to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CHICAGO TEACHER BATTLING CANCER REFUSES TO STOP IN-PERSON CLASSES: ‘I WANT MY LIFE TO BE RELEVANT RIGHT NOW’

“We know how to do this at this point, and we just saw such negative consequences, almost 100,000 kids disconnected from learning with the extended remote period, and I’m just worried that not being able to be back in person could just keep going on here. And we’ve got to at, some level, learn to live with COVID with the appropriate safety mitigations in place,” Arwady said. 

She expressed that it was right for schools to take extra precautions, and those precautions were visible within the schools, such as improved ventilation systems.

“If I thought that having school was going to lead to unnecessary spread, major outbreaks, major problems, of course I wouldn’t be in support of it. But it’s just not what the data suggests. And, again, if I knew omicron was going to peak tomorrow, this would be easy,” Arwady said. “But if this is a pattern, and we keep on going with it where we just don’t see children and fully vaccinated adults often getting sick with COVID, not seriously ill, at some level we have to do the things that are essential.”

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago reads, School Closed after Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers' union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Jan. 5, 2022.  REUTERS/Jim Vondruska

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago reads, School Closed after Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers’ union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Jan. 5, 2022.  REUTERS/Jim Vondruska
(REUTERS/Jim Vondruska)

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“For me, school is first to open, last to close. And in a city where bars are open, why would schools be closed? I hope we don’t get to a point where we have to do those other things, but that’s the difficult conversation,” she added.

Chicago Public Schools announced late Wednesday they would be closed for a second straight day amid a fight with the Chicago Teachers Union, which voted Tuesday to return to remote learning due a rapid rise in coronavirus cases across the country. 

The union was blasted by critics following their refusal to return to school as “selfish” and “malevolent.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, D., has threatened to withhold pay from holdouts.

Fox News’ Cortney O’Brien and Adam Sabes contributed to this report.

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