Chicago Teachers Union says CPS needs stronger Covid protocols; Cites staff death as example

Coronavirus

CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union is once again raising concerns about a rise in Covid-19 cases in Chicago Public School classrooms.

In a news conference Monday, CTU cited examples from Carnegie Elementary School located at 1414 E. 61st Place in Woodlawn. CTU said there isn’t enough cleaning staff, ventilation or testing, shortfalls they say contributed to at least 17 covid cases at the school in the past two weeks – a claim CPS and the mayor deny.

CTU says Jonl Bush, a special education classroom assistant, recently died after testing positive for the virus.  CTU and Bush’s family said he was fully vaccinated, testing positive the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Bush’s mother Claudette was at the news conference Monday.

“I’m not just hurt, I’m angry,” she said. “By Tuesday afternoon they told him he had COVID, by Friday my daughter was calling me telling me my son was gone.”

District wide, about 5500 students and staff were in quarantine over the weekend because of exposure concerns.

Stacia Scottis executive vice president of SIEU Local 73. Bush was a member of her union.

“If they had the same safety measures that they had in Spring ‘21 that the mayor herself admitted worked, we would be in a very different situation,” Scottis said. “They have rolled back safety measures.”

One teacher is calling for a return to remote learning. Others are asking for a vaccination site at the school and the regular testing of more students.

“I have watched your mayor stand time and time again and say, ‘Go back to school. It’s safe. We’ve cleaned them. Well, Ms. Lightfoot, it ain’t safe,” Claudette Bush said. “I don’t know what the solution is. And I know Covid is devastating the world but it ain’t safe back in these schools because Jonl Thessius Bush is dead today.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded at an unrelated event Monday afternoon.

“It’s a little distressing that when somebody has died that they’re using that as an opportunity to score political points,” she said. “I am very confident in the Covid mitigation plan that CPS has in place.”

CPS released a statement Monday that read, in part, “Chicago Public Schools extends its deepest and most sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the Andrew Carnegie Elementary employee who passed away late last month … The safety and well being of our staff and students remains a top priority at Chicago Public Schools. The CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) have worked shoulder to shoulder to keep our schools safe since the beginning of this pandemic. During the past two weeks, together they have investigated multiple recent cases within the Carnegie community and found no evidence of widespread or unchecked in-school transmission.”

They said they will hold a two-part vaccination event at Carnegie from 10 a.m. to noon on December 13 and again on Monday, January 3, 2022.

The full CPS statement follows:

Chicago Public Schools extends its deepest and most sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the Andrew Carnegie Elementary employee who passed away late last month. The deceased employee joined the District in August 2012 and last worked as a Special Education Classroom Assistant (SECA) at Carnegie. While this employee’s tragic death on Nov. 26 has shocked and grieved us all, the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence supports the truth that vaccination remains the most effective weapon and protection from the virus.

The safety and well being of our staff and students remains a top priority at Chicago Public Schools. The CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) have worked shoulder to shoulder to keep our schools safe since the beginning of this pandemic. During the past two weeks, together they have investigated multiple recent cases within the Carnegie community and found no evidence of widespread or unchecked in-school transmission. Many strong layers of protection are in place at Carnegie, and these work to keep students and staff safe and as protected as possible. This elementary school is open, and students not in quarantine are required to attend in-person learning. There is no public health recommendation or requirement to close this school. CPS and CDPH will continue to monitor cases and testing results closely and will communicate any updates.

The District will continue to make available COVID-19 testing for all consented students and staff in the weeks leading up to the holiday break. The CPS testing opportunity will be on Wednesday, December 8, 2021. CPS has built up our testing capacity to ensure we can offer this support to the Carnegie school community while continuing to test across the District. 

CPS will also be offering a two-part vaccination event at Carnegie from 10 a.m. to noon on December 13, 2021 and again on Monday, January 3, 2022. Vaccines are the best way to protect everyone from COVID-19, and they are available to all Chicagoans age five and older. COVID-19 vaccines are safe, work extraordinarily well, and are widely available. 

  • CPS has provided crisis support to students and staff at Carnegie following the loss of the staff member and will continue to provide ongoing support.    
  • Unnecessarily closing a school out of fear may cause great harm. Disinformation is contagious, too, as we have seen, and this causes harm as well. Shutting children out of school hurts families and makes students less safe; it drives children into informal, last-minute, unstable learning and care spaces that have fewer COVID-19 protections in place.
  • This may worsen community spread of the virus. Fear-led decisions often have unintended and harmful consequences. 
  • CPS has been testing students regularly at Carnegie and flipping classes to remote when needed.
  • On Wednesday, December 1, 2021, CPS administered 129 COVID-19 tests at Carnegie that resulted in eight cases, and the impacted classes were flipped to remote learning. Two days later, on December 3, through a Walder Grant, CPS partnered with Lurie’s Children Hospital to administer 56 COVID tests, all of which were negative.
  • They are planning to return on Tuesday to offer testing to quarantined students. 
  • More than 7.8 billion doses of this safe and effective vaccine have been administered across the globe, preventing serious illness, hospitalizations, and death on a grand scale. 
  • At the same time, effective COVID-19 mitigation measures remain crucial: Masking, social distancing, clean hands, and staying home if you are sick. These steps save lives.
  • Finally, the school has undergone extra cleaning and disinfecting over the past several days to continue to provide a safe learning environment for students and staff.  CPS will continue to address cleanliness issues with targeted cleaning and additional resources. 

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