What a year. I hope you are doing okay.
I’m writing this letter because our union needs you. As a parent, I need you. I need a connection — a connection to others who are going through the uncertainty of raising children in a pandemic.
I want to know that I’m not the only person who has endlessly second-guessed myself, wondering if I’m doing more harm by letting my children go out, or more damage by keeping them home.
I want to know that I’m not the only parent trying to decide if the computer is a good or bad influence.
I want to know if I should feel guilty about how it took a pandemic, and the lack of sports and extracurricular activities, for me to feel closer to my son.
And most of all, I want to know that you’re not going to give up on our schools.
Tens of thousands of Chicagoans rely on Chicago’s public schools for education, for support and for socializing our children. For many, school is a warm place in the winter and a reliable meal. For some, it’s emphasis on test scores and college admissions.
The pandemic has polarized our society; or, more accurately, sharpened and highlighted divisions that were already there. These divisions exist between those who wear masks and those who reject them, between those who vote Republican and those who vote Democrat, and between many in our public school communities.
So I think we need to take a few moments to emphasize the connection we as parents have to our schools.
We can’t take public schools for granted. We can’t assume that because we want different things out of our schools, that we all can’t get what we need. We need schools that love and challenge our children, and schools that keep them safe. Stacy Davis Gates, our CTU vice president and herself a mother of three elementary school students, puts it this way: “This is the largest group project any of us have ever taken part in.”
As a teacher, I structured my classes around group projects. And I can tell you that a good group assignment asks open-ended questions, and doesn’t have just one right answer. A good teacher listens to their class.
I wish Mayor Lightfoot was listening to the thousands of CTU members who are parents in addition to being teachers, PSRPs, clinicians, counselors, social workers, case managers and librarians. We asked for a different safety plan this year — a plan with robust testing the way they are doing it in Los Angeles, improved contact tracing, in-school vaccination clinics, and a public health metric and adequate staffing.
For months, educators have led the charge for safe schools and communities. We held vaccination events in the summer and canvassed neighborhoods talking to residents about the importance of getting the COVID vaccine. Right now, we are organizing on-site COVID testing events at schools where CPS COVID testing has not taken place, and in communities where the risk of infection is high.
Leading is what teachers do, but it became even more necessary this year due to vacancies in nearly a dozen top leadership positions in CPS. With a permanent CEO now in place, we would love a better relationship with the district. The challenge for them, however, is trying to find spaces that are independent of political influence from the mayor’s office. So until they figure that out, we are providing the vision and direction that will make our school communities stable and safe. And sadly, this vision includes safety beyond COVID.
This weekend, we learned of the death of Kierra Moore, a student and basketball standout at Michele Clark Magnet High School. Close to 300 children have been shot in Chicago this year, which has intensified trauma that already exists in our communities, and trauma that educators and families know all too well. our city needs healing, and a commitment to preserving the lives of our children.,
The $2 billion in federal funding that the mayor has for our schools must not just go to our recovery, but our survival — mental health, grief counseling and restorative justice for everyone living with pain and anguish in a school community. This is real safety, and can no longer be just a request we make of our bosses, but a demand.
We need our school system to succeed, and we need our leaders to fight for the interests of public education and not let the system be used for headlines for political gain. As parents, that is our right, so we must continue to look out for one another. Care about each other’s well-being. Recognize who your real allies are, and the people who are with you in this fight — educators, administrators and everyone who works in our schools.
Push CPS to communicate honestly, and after nearly two months of in-person, five-day-a-week instruction, finally put forth a plan for safety.
These are the things I want for both my child and yours. So let’s continue working together, and making demands of the system to do everything we can to keep our families safe.