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As virus again spikes, new school year approaches and trauma needs among students and staff intensify, educators urge stepped up ventilation, vax plan, desperately needed facilities repairs, more nurses, more educators for special education, English language learners.

  • 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 27: Educators and allies call for education equity, CPS headquarters, 42 W. Madison, Chicago.

CHICAGO — Collapsing ceilings at Washington Park High School. Lack of transportation for special education students. Chronic shortages of social workers, school nurses and social-emotional supports for students. Too few special education and ELL teachers. In a year that should be about recovery, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has yet to address chronic staffing, facilities and support issues that undermine students and hurt school communities.

Educators will gather at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 27 at CPS headquarters, 42 W. Madison, to urge the mayor to step up investments in desperately needed staff and facilities repairs to support students and address the trauma of the pandemic, as well as years of disinvestment that preceded COVID.

With school beginning again for more than 300,000 Chicago students in less than a month, staffing and facilities issues are increasingly urgent.

Educators are calling on the mayor to stop playing politics with the district’s capital improvement plan and instead prioritize facilities needs at schools like Washington, at the same time that all capital planning should be undertaken through a ‘green schools’ lens designed to address needs in the face of climate change. Students at buildings across the city roasted during spring heat waves, even though every classroom is supposed to be air conditioned. Educators also want to see robust ventilation improvements across the district to mitigate against the spread of COVID, within the larger context of an equitable and transparent plan for facilities replacement and maintenance.

They’re also urging the mayor to improve staff working conditions – and student learning conditions – by hiring and retaining the health workers, educators, trauma supports and social-emotional support staff that schoolchildren need to thrive and recover from three years of an ongoing pandemic and years of systemic inequality in Chicago.

Educators are flagging critical staff issues that include a deepening shortage of substitute teachers, which CTU members are urging the mayor’s CPS team to address by providing subs with vital needs like health care, sick days and better wages. CTU members also want the mayor to keep her word about implementing an LPN to HSN pipeline, which would allow overwhelmingly Black and Brown licensed practical nurses in CPS to earn their RNs and a health service nurse ranking that better reflects both their critical skills and the vital supports they provide to students on the ground. While the mayor agreed to a nurse in every school in the CTU’s 2019 contract, many schools still share school nurses among multiple schools – and CPS has yet to create the pipeline project they agreed to contractually four years ago..

CTU members are also deeply concerned that schools across the district are struggling under the burden of a $2 billion backlog in facilities repairs – including Washington High School, where the ceiling collapsed the last week of school. While Washington has needed repairs – or replacement – for years, Lightfoot is instead pushing to build a new high school in the south loop on land designated for affordable housing.

At the same time, Lightfoot’s CPS team is ‘encouraging’ families to take a $500/month transportation payment – about $25/day – in lieu of bussing for their special education students, many of whom require acute care and must be accompanied by an aide. Those funds would fail to cover even half the transportation expense for SPEd students, and teachers are concerned that last year’s transportation fiasco will be repeated – denying SPEd students access to the public education to which they’re legally entitled.

Lightfoot laid off more than 400 teachers and support staff this June, even though by its own admission CPS is understaffed and funded at only 68% adequacy. Those laid off included eight librarians, bringing the number of schools with a librarian to fewer than 100, even though Lightfoot acknowledged librarians’ critical role in supporting student literacy and critical thinking when she promised a librarian in every school as a candidate. CPS also laid off more than a dozen technology coordinators whose work was vital during remote learning, along with dozens of teacher assistants who help meet students instructional needs.

But Lightfoot has balked at dipping into over a billion dollars in CPS reserves or spending some of the $2.8 billion in federal COVID funds to bring more full-time social workers and trauma supports to school communities in need. Instead, Lightfoot again used the despised SBB, or ‘student-based budgeting’ formula created by Rahm Emanuel, to justify deep cuts at schools for next year.

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.