Lightfoot, a Democrat, said her office has maintained peace with almost every single [organized labor] unit, except for the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which she said has aspirations “akin to a political party.”
“When you have unions that have other aspirations beyond being a union, and maybe being something akin to a political party, then there’s always going to be conflict,” she said during an interview with the New York Times published on Sunday.
“I think, ultimately, they’d like to take over not only Chicago Public Schools, but take over running the city government,” Lightfoot added. “That’ll play itself out over time. I don’t really spend time, and certainly not in the middle of a pandemic, worrying about the politics. But politics intrudes, always.”
Her comments came after the Chicago Teachers Union last week approved a proposal from the city’s public school district to reopen elementary and middle schools. It ended a bitter standoff and the mayor avoided a second CTU strike within two years.
Amid the battle, educators expressed concerns about school safety, as parents and families dealt with stress and uncertainty over the future of their children’s education.
“A lot of our residents are still very scared. They have great concerns about the virus. So addressing the needs of parents is really part and parcel of addressing the needs of our larger resident population through education, through outreach,” Lightfoot told the paper.
“In this pandemic, social life has been completely torn from so many of our young people. Their social-emotional learning is absolutely central to their growth, and yet we see them learning on screens. We know that’s not the best way for them to learn,” she continued.
Under the proposal, pre-K and special education students and staff will be the only ones to report to classrooms this month. They will be followed by students in grades K-5 on March 1, and students in grades 6-8 on March 8.
Chicago Public Schools originally planned on bringing its K-8 students back for in-person learning on Feb. 1, but the dispute stalled their return as the union told members to work remotely during negotiations.
Despite the ongoing tensions, Lightfoot and the union will likely meet in the near future to discuss reopening the city’s public high schools. The mayor added that she is focused on reopening high schools and wants seniors to have a normal experience during their final year.
President Biden has called for most schools to reopen within his first 100 days in office.
Fox News’ Greg Norman and Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report