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An African American woman in blue jeans and a red t-shirt, wearing a blue surgical mask, is at a rally outside holding a cardboard sign that reads: I can't accept a plan that will kill my kids.

Our students and their educators deserve the right to survive the pandemic

COVID-19 has taken nearly a quarter of a million lives in the U.S. How many Chicago deaths are acceptable to the mayor and CPS as they cherry-pick the science to justify their dangerous in-person reopening experiment?

That question is on the minds of members, parents, and students as CPS pushes ahead with its reckless, ill-timed and illegal plan to bring thousands of students and staff back for in-person school in November.

Reckless

Sending our youngest and most vulnerable students back into school buildings without the proper investments to make those spaces safe is the definition of reckless. Forcing these at-risk students back into unsafe buildings because CPS has failed to support them during remote learning is precisely the wrong approach to take.

Ill-timed

Mayor Lightfoot was conspicuously absent when CPS CEO Janice Jackson announced the back-to-school buildings plan on a Friday. The following Monday, the mayor was raising alarm bells about the increasing COVID-19 case counts and positivity rate and ordering Chicagoans to stay away from anyone who doesn’t live with them.

Illegal

An independent arbitrator ruled that CPS buildings are not safe for the clerks and other staff who were ordered back to in-person work in August. CPS ignored that ruling and illegally pursued returning even more staff to unsafe workplaces — even as workers in those buildings are being sickened. If the district cannot keep workers safe in buildings with skeleton crews, we have no confidence they can ensure the safety of thousands of students and staff.

It’s a recipe for failure.

The citywide COVID-19 positivity rate stood at 4.5 percent in mid-October, when CPS announced some 5,000 educators and 22,000 students would return to buildings, with a seven-day rolling average of 442 new cases per day. But the positivity rate in Latinx and Black communities was two and three times that. And rates for children under the age of 17 stood at 10 percent. Those rates had roughly DOUBLED by the week of October 26.

An obscene experiment

“It’s beyond disturbing that CPS would choose to use our most vulnerable and most medically fragile students in this obscene experiment,” Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “It is dangerous and irresponsible to unilaterally roll out a plan without consultation or cooperation with our members and CPS families. But this is what happens when CPS refuses to bargain over basic safety protocols or engage in transparency or accountability.”

The move to endanger special needs students comes as no surprise. The district has a long history of undercutting special education years before the global pandemic. Special education cluster students are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of severe health challenges, yet CPS wants these students and their families to travel by bus with unclear safety guarantees.

It also is cruel to expect four-year-old Pre-K children to return to buildings where they cannot hug their teachers, play with their classmates or share toys. And it is dangerous to expect their teachers to manage the runny noses, bathroom breaks and other issues that come with caring for young children.

“Bargaining” with CPS

The Union has attempted to bargain, as ISBE says we should, on a return to work plan with CPS for months but, as usual, the district has no intent to engage with the people who know our schools and our students best — and has told us so. CEO Janice Jackson or Chief Education Officer Latanya McDade failed to attend a single bargaining session, a telling sign of the district’s lack of interest in reaching an agreement with educators.

“We’ve become accustomed to CPS’ chronic refusal to address the educational and social-emotional needs of our students,” Davis Gates said. “But now CPS and the mayor are literally putting lives on the line by marching students and workers back into unsafe buildings with no transparency, no answers to critical questions and no meaningful stakeholder engagement. Our school communities deserve better.”