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Black and Brown parents join CTU members in rejecting in-person learning, as CPS continues to reject accommodations for workers — including CTU member with brain tumor — and schools remain largest single source of COVID exposure in state.

  • 6:30 a.m. Mon., Jan. 4 — Press conference: pre-K, special ed cluster, elementary teachers on rejecting CPS mandate to work in-person. Reporters, see your email for registration link, or email communications@ctulocal1.org.
  • 4:00 p.m., — Press availability/teach-in: Brentano Elementary School, 2723 N Fairfield Ave., Chicago. Interview/B-roll/interview opportunities in English and Spanish with aldermen, educators. Event will also be livestreamed via CTU Facebook page.

CHICAGO—As CPS educators mourned the COVID death of another school clerk forced back into unsafe working conditions this fall, rank and file CTU members across the city are rejecting CPS’ effort to force thousands more back into unsafe buildings beginning this Monday. That includes CTU members who are parents — and who have also elected not to send their children back to unsafe buildings. More than two-thirds of Black and Brown families — the parents of 90 percent of CPS students — have rejected returning their children to school buildings until the pandemic is under control and classrooms can be shown to be safe.

Educators from half a dozen pre-K, special education cluster and elementary schools will hold a press conference by Zoom at 6:30 a.m. on Monday to lay out why they and their fellow educators are rejecting returning to in-person work on Monday. Educators at Brentano Elementary will stage a short press availability at 4:00 p.m. with rank and file members and aldermen, then convene a public teach-in at the school about why reopening now without guaranteed safety protocols is dangerous for students, families and school staff.

CTU members and allies will stage a series of actions and forums during the week to raise awareness about persistent safety issues in schools, as the Prosser school community continues to mourn the death of a valued school clerk last week from COVID.

CPS wants to force pre-K and special education cluster teachers back into buildings on Monday, six days before Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most recent stay-at-home order expires — and before health professionals can gauge any additional post-holiday risk of spread. At the same time, more than two-thirds of Black and Brown parents have rejected in-person learning despite pressure from CPS to agree to send students back starting on January 11, putting the lie to the mayor’s ‘equity’ claims that schools are being reopened to serve the District’s overwhelmingly non-white students.

CPS has also refused to commit any of the $800 million in new federal COVID relief to support the District’s overwhelmingly Black and Brown students, whose families have been hammered by COVID sickness and death since the pandemic started. The CTU has called on CPS to fast track the hiring of nurses, since virtually no CPS school has a nurse onsite more than once a week. And the Union has called on CPS to invest in more social workers, counselors and wrap-around supports to help students navigate the trauma of a virus that has disproportionately harmed Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities, even as families are confronting mounting financial hardship and Chicago is reeling from one of the most violent years in its history.

Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Allison Arwady announced last week that vaccinations for workers in the 1b catagory — which includes teachers and school support staff — should begin in February. The CTU has called on CPS to fast-track vaccinations not just for school workers, but also for students and families in neighborhoods with high positivity rates. But CPS and the mayor’s hand-picked board of education have refused to bargain over getting vaccines to school community members, or over any safety or educational protocols since the pandemic began. At the same time, CPS has refused to inspect school ventilation systems for their ability — or failure — to prevent the spread of the virus in classrooms.

CPS also has routinely refused to grant workers any accommodation to continue to work remotely unless they are themselves directly at greater COVID risk — even if family members are at high risk for the virus. One clerk sought to work remotely because her husband is undergoing cancer treatment, and was denied, even though the clerk did her work remotely successfully for months. And CPS is even denying workers themselves with serious health conditions permission to continue to work remotely, including one worker with a brain tumor.

Evidence that children and schools can be significant sites of infection and spread is growing. The CDC calls schools a “potential source of COVID-19 outbreaks, due to the number of individuals intermingling in close proximity for extended periods of time.” And data on coronavirus cases in U.S. schools suggests in-person classes contribute to the virus’ spread, particularly in neighborhoods with high positivity and background transmission rates —the situation in dozens of Chicago neighborhoods with double digit positivity rates. CPS has instead cherry-picked its data and refused to follow a binding arbitration ruling in October that school staff should be allowed to work remotely until ventilation systems can be shown to be safe, a ruling CPS has simply ignored, telling contractors instead NOT to test school ventilation systems for their COVID mitigation capacities.

COVID cases have been reported in more than 300 Chicago public schools since the school year began, even before students have returned and while buildings are staffed by skeleton crews. Over 700 workers have been infected with COVID, with the number of deaths mounting weekly. CTU members have filed hundreds of safety complaints with the Union since CPS forced school clerks and technical coordinators back into school buildings on August 26 — including complaints from workers who’ve checked their classrooms in the last two weeks.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.