CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools students are set to return to the classroom a week from Monday, but some aldermen want Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the district to reconsider reopening plans.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that 23 aldermen signed a petition demanding that CPS allow teachers to be equal partners in reopening planning. Without a COVID-19 vaccine available to children 12 and under, the aldermen argue more needs to be done to protect everyone.
The petition asks the district to offer a hybrid option, move money toward clinicians, special education teachers and support personnel, and give teachers a voice in the reopening decision. In addition to the City Council members signing and 26 state lawmakers signed a letter penned by Alderwoman Maria Hadden and State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas to the CPS Board:
“The Delta variant of COVID-19 has demonstrated its stronger transmission among unvaccinated young people. And we are deeply concerned that Chicago Public Schools’ current plan for students and staff to return to school buildings rolls back many important safety mitigation standards that can undermine the district’s objective of increasing equity for students.”
Classes begin in-person on Aug. 30. All students are required to pass a daily online health screening. Those who do not pass will have to stay home and quarantine for 14 days.
In a press conference Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union also raised last-minute concerns.
“I’m scared for my students, their families and my co-educators,” said Dr. Andrea Parker, a middle school teacher.
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates called on the mayor and her team to understand the benefits of coming together. In response, Lightfoot said: “Our schools are safe. We’ve got a mountain of evidence of that fact starting back in February of this year when we first reopened elementary schools, signed a deal ratified by the CTU House of Delegates. CPS put in $100 million in COVID mitigation efforts over the course of the last school year to be able to open up safely.”
CTU President Jesse Sharkey is calling on the district to hire more clinicians, special education teachers, and support staff moving forward.
“We need more staffing. We’re running testing in schools,” Sharkey said. “We’re running multiple arrangements for lunch. We have to reorganize classes in order to make things like our special classes safe.”
The elected officials also want educators and support staff who are medically unable to return to school buildings to fill positions in CPS’s virtual academy. They’re also asking that unvaccinated students be moved more than 3 feet apart and conduct home visits year-round to engage CPS families.
On hiring more staff to help with COVID, the mayor would only say that the district is following its collective bargaining agreement with CTU.