Speaking to reporters today, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden "trusts the mayor and the unions to work this out" as regards school reopening in Chicago. This despite his previously saying that the US needs a national, federally directed schools reopening plan.
A reporter said, "The Democratic mayor of Chicago has said that it's safe to reopen schools. They've invested $100 million into safety measures, but the teachers union remains on the verge of striking. Does the White House agree with the mayor that if enough funding is put into place and safety measures have been taken that kids should return to schools?"
"Let me first say," Psaki said, "the president has enormous respect for Mayor Lightfoot and he has also been a strong ally to teachers, his entire career, of course. As you know, Dr. Biden, his wife, is a teacher so even in his home.
"He trusts the mayor and the unions to work this out. They're both prioritizing the right things, which is ensuring the health and safety of the kids and teachers, and working to make sure the children in Chicago are getting the education they deserve. So he is hopeful, we are hopeful, they can reach common ground as soon as possible."
The reporter then asked about the White House's role in mediating negotiations to get the nation's school children back in class.
"We certainly remain in touch with a range of parties," Psaki said, "but again we hope that they can come to common ground soon."
This comes after Biden advisor Cedric Richmond said that the $1.9 trillion relief package would likely need to pass before kids could go back to school.
Richmond responded to a question about school opening by touting the enormous relief bill as a necessary component of school openings. "I think the President is doing a lot," Richmond said "He just introduced a $1.9 trillion plan to make sure that it is a whole community approach..."
Chicago Public Schools have become the epicenter of the school reopening conflict that has been playing out in cities across the country. Students in Chicago haven't been back to school since closures at the beginning of the pandemic, and at every turn, the Chicago Teachers Union has blocked the school district from implementing reopening plans.
On Jan. 25, Biden said that he sided with the unions against the Chicago Public Schools, and touted the need for a nationwide reopening plan. He has said that American school children in grades K-8 would be back in class by the end of this first 100 days in office.
Recently, Chicago's "rank-and-file" dance teachers released a video of them doing an interpretive dance about how they didn't think they should go back to work.
Over the summer, the school district began to formulate a reopening plan only to be stopped by the union, and as the fall wore on, the unions stood in the way at every turn, refusing to get back into the classroom. One union leader shared posts encouraging teachers to stay out of the classroom due to the dangers of COVID while she was vacationing in Puerto Rico. She posted her bikini pics on social media as well as directives to teachers to stay away from school. She later apologized.
A Chicago mom spoke out against the closures on Monday, saying that the prohibition against a proper education and its accompanying social life is "mental abuse." The teachers union balked when the city said they would not pay Chicago Public Schools employees who refused to return to work despite having no medical excuse. The school district also had to hire an additional 2,000 workers who would act as classroom helpers while students were in classrooms and teachers worked remotely.
The Chicago Teachers Union has been threatening a strike if the school district demands that they go back to work, although since they're not at work anyway, it does seem that it would be an odd walk-out.