We are living in difficult times, negotiating uncharted territory as our city and state has shut down to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Our hearts go out to the families of those who have already lost their lives to this deadly virus – and to families who were already struggling before the COVID-19 outbreak, and confront even greater hardship under the weight of this pandemic.
Our Union has been — and will continue to be — on the front line in dealing with this crisis. We called for schools to be closed in March to protect the health and welfare of our school communities and to halt the spread of the virus. And we continue to advocate for policies in our schools and our city that support our families and our rank and file members.
While the decision to close public schools was the right one, our members understand better than most the challenge it presents for our families. We know that many of them are homeless or living paycheck to paycheck, working multiple jobs to get by. Many do not have adequate health insurance or paid time off from their jobs. Thousands struggle to find decent affordable housing. Every day, we see the hardships our students and their parents face. And those hardships are intensifying.
That’s why, before schools were closed, we joined with SEIU Healthcare, the Grassroots Collaborative and other allies to call for a bold expansion of social safety net programs – common good demands — to support our communities during this crisis. Our demands include a minimum 15 days paid time off, a meals delivery program for families who rely on free or reduced lunch and breakfast, a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs, as well as state directives for enhanced and deep cleaning of our schools. And we’ve joined with United Working Families to call for the Right to Recovery, an extensive package of city and state legislation designed to address the fundamental economic needs of our communities during this crisis.
We’re pleased that the governor and other public agencies have embraced some of our demands. The city, state and federal government can and must do more. We live in a prosperous city that never blinks an eye when it comes to providing tax handouts to wealthy corporations or real estate developers. We must demand that no Chicagoan lose their job or weeks of pay because of a public health crisis. No Chicagoan should go hungry, homeless or without heat and electricity. No one should lose their home or go into debt from which they cannot recover.
While we deal with a growing public health emergency, we also remain educators, dedicated to doing what is best in this moment for our students and their teachers. That’s why we urged the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to suspend all assessments and the racist SQRP rating policy for the remainder of the academic year and to adjust the state’s graduation standards. We are pleased the state and CPS have adopted those recommendations.
We remain in regular communication with the governor, mayor and CPS CEO Janice Jackson and her staff. We hear your concerns and use your feedback to shape our discussions with the state’s policy makers. Nearly 4,000 members responded to our recent survey about school cleanliness — and the results did not surprise. Just 16 percent of those responding reported that their school had been thoroughly cleaned since the first virus case was detected at Vaughn Occupational High School. That’s inexcusable, and we are holding CPS accountable for its pledge to thoroughly clean and disinfect our schools while they’re closed.
Your advocacy is effective and essential. Your emails, posts, tweets and conversations about the critical lack of resources for our families and school cleanliness—or lack thereof—in your schools helped push the governor and the mayor to take action. Now, we need to keep up that pressure as we push for expanded protections and adequate resources for our communities. Reach out to your elected officials in City Hall and in Springfield. Contact the Mayor, Janice Jackson and the CPS Board and tell them our families and communities need support now more than ever.
We must also be steadfast in our demands that this crisis not be used to further the right-wing attack on public education. Rightwing policymakers and the charter industry used Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as an excuse to privatize public education. Today, corporate players and their allies in school administrations are eager to use the COVID-19 crisis to widely – and permanently – deploy remote, online instruction. We will not allow that to happen.
In safety and solidarity,