CHICAGO — Special Education and Pre-K teachers of CPS returned to the classroom Monday, but some refused to go in – saying it’s not safe.
The district’s plan has been criticized by the CTU, as 5,000 staff members return to the classroom just six days prior to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s stay-at-home order expiring.
The union said ventilation systems should be tested in older buildings, while also pushing for fast-tracked hiring for school nurses and for the district to invest more in counselors and social workers, a paramount concern in Black and Latinx communities within the city.
Teachers also want school workers to be granted an exception for working remotely if they have family members who are high-risk.
A letter sent by 32 Aldermen to the Mayor and Janice Jackson, the school district’s CEO, shows their concerns for re-opening schools right now.
“We are deeply concerned that Chicago Public Schools’ current plan for students and staff to return to school buildings does not meet the district’s objective of increasing equity for students – and fails to adequately address a number of safety concerns identified by parents, students and staff in light of the ongoing pandemic,” the Aldermen said in the statement.
On Monday night, CPS CEO Janice Jackson responded to the letter, saying a deal with CTU could be within reach.
“Despite what you have heard, we believe there is broad agreement with CTU on all of their in-school safety concerns including — but not limited to — ventilation, PPE, contact tracing, COVID testing, and school- and district-level safety committees. While an agreement is not legally required to reopen schools, we believe one is within reach and we will continue to work toward one as quickly as possible.”
Jackson says data show are safe when proper mitigations are followed.
But the Chicago Teachers Union said some educators who did return to their schools Monday reported problems with cleanliness, safety protocols and ventilation – saying some rooms appeared not to have been cleaned since last March.
Linda Perales stayed home on the first day CPS asked her to return to the classroom.
“I am making this decision not only for myself but for the safety of myself and their families,” she said.
She joined a Zoom call with other teachers, like her, and their union. They said just because kids are back in classrooms elsewhere doesn’t mean it’ll work in Chicago.
“This is a virus that discriminates,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “Predominately Black or Latinx parts of town, those are the parts of the city where this thing is raging and hitting the hardest.”
Among the things the CTU is requesting – improved ventilation systems and sanitation.
“We’re being told that we’re going to have to do a hand washing routine in schools that in march didn’t have hot running water or access to soap,” Sharkey said.
They’re also calling for exceptions to be made for teachers with high-risk loved ones who want to stay remote.
On Monday night, CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates responded to Jackson’s comments, which reference a potential strike down the line.
“We are concentrated on figuring out how to provide safe instruction for our students. This is a pandemic. It is unconscionable that the mayor and CPS would try to push us into a strike,