President Biden, parents weigh in on CPS’ return to in-person learning after CTU votes to stay remote

Chicago News
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CHICAGO — The fight over a return to in-person learning in Chicago Public Schools remains at an impasse Monday, a day after the Chicago Teachers Union members voted not to return despite the district’s plans to do so.  

Monday was meant to be the day about 10,000 teachers got back into their classrooms, with kids following a week later; but that date has now been pushed to Wednesday, when months of negotiations could come to a head.

The CTU and CPS have been going back and forth about the district’s COVID-19 safety plans for months. Over the weekend, 86% of the union’s 25,000 members weighed in on a measure calling for teachers to refuse to return on Monday and 71% voted to stay remote for the time being.

After pre-kindergarten and special education students were allowed to return to in-person learning earlier this month, CPS data shows about 19% of kids who were eligible ended up returning to school. 

Holly Simon says her son Nathaniel, who has down syndrome, was bored with remote learning so the return to in-person instruction two weeks ago was very welcome.

“To see the difference in Nathaniel has been amazing since he started back at school,” CPS parent Holly Simon said. “It literally gave him back the routine that he craved so desperately.”

Some teachers refused to return to in-person classes and in certain cases were docked pay and locked out of online systems so they could not teach remotely. CPS has said it will not pay teachers who don’t show up and will cut off their access to virtual classrooms.   

When asked directly about the dispute over sending students and teachers back to school in Chicago on Monday, President Joe Biden avoided taking sides while laying out his administration’s guidelines for reopening.  

“I believe we should make schools safe and secure,” Biden said. “We need new ventilation, testing for people coming in and out of the school; teachers as well as students.”

During an online news conference Monday, teachers shared their concerns about being in buildings with students and possibly spreading the disease. 

“They want to work safely; we do not want to be locked out,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. 

Some teachers expressed concern about caring for a family member who is high-risk for Covid-related complications. The union’s demands also call for a way to hold the district accountable if Covid protocols aren’t properly enforced. 

“All we’re asking for is for our employer to meet us halfway,” teacher Dawn Kelly said.

In response, CPSs pushed the start date back to Wednesday, buying some breathing room as the two sides continued to negotiate.  

In a written statement, the district noted time away from the classroom is having other serious effects, saying: “We’ve seen grades, attendance, and enrollment drop significantly for many of our students in recent months, and the impact has been felt most by our Black and Latinx students.” 

Speaking Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s optimistic about reaching a deal.  

“I’m a glass-half-full person.” Lightfoot said. “I feel confident that if we come to the table every single day with a focus on putting our kids first, doing what needs to be done to protect our teachers and the school community that we are going to get a deal done.”

This afternoon, a group of parents gathered at Perkins Bass Elementary School in Englewood to demand a safe solution from both CPS and CTU that relieves them of the burden of at-home learning.

“It’s very difficult at times to find people to babysit and monitor the children’s situation,” CPS parent Willie Preston said.

Parents and students at Perkins Bass said they want a safe solution, not more arguments. 

“It’s hard to make relationships with teachers and friends behind a screen, Mayor Lightfoot, please, I promise I’ll wear my mask; please let me go back to school,” said CPS 7th grader Elizabeth Preston.

Holly Simon is a breast cancer survivor and is considered high-risk when it comes to COVID-19, but says people have to make the decision that is best for their kids as she did. 

“For me that is my choice, I’m lovin’ it and I love it for him,” she said.

Simon says Nathaniel is a bit of a jokester and pretended to have Covid just to get some attention. 

While she says she reprimanded him and explained to him why he can’t joke about things like that, she said she was extremely impressed with how school officials handled it.

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