Memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Union and Acero management calls for school-wide shutdown if there are three or more confirmed positive cases across three or more classrooms within a 14-day period.
CHICAGO, Sept. 14, 2021 — Acero Schools, one of Chicago Public Schools’ largest charter operators, closed its Zizumbo campus today to all unvaccinated students for two weeks following a number of positive cases of COVID-19 at the school. This quarantine meets the terms of Acero’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Chicago Teachers Union, which specifically calls for a school-wide shutdown if there are three or more confirmed positive cases across three or more classrooms in the 600-student school within a 14-day period.
This is the first school-wide shutdown in the district this year. The following communication was sent to parents and families Monday evening:
We are writing to inform you that there have been three school community member(s) diagnosed with COVID-19 at your scholar(s) school. Because there is no clear indication of the origin of the confirmed cases and because the number of cases affects three individuals or more within three or more classrooms over a fourteen day period, we are following the recommendation by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) to temporarily close school for two weeks in order to prevent further spread within the community.
While educators and families attempt the manage the chaos at many traditional, neighborhood schools, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s CPS plans for layered mitigation failing in buildings across the city, unionized charters have taken a different approach. Through agreement with the Union, charter campuses across the city implemented sweeping safety protocols that range from more school nurses, to COVID-19 testing, screening and school-wide quarantine where necessary.
The MOU with Acero Zizumbo, in particular, called for up-to-date reporting, regular quarantining, multiple vaccination events and thorough testing, yet it still wasn’t enough to ensure safety at the school.
“Acero has an agreement in place with our union that holds charter management accountable — an agreement that came via collaboration and a focus on the safety of all stakeholders,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “The lack of leadership at the top of CPS, however, in addition to the mayor’s failure to plan and protect, has many schools in near-crisis mode.”
The lack of leadership in CPS is being felt in school buildings across the city, as the district flounders in rolling out COVID-19 testing, and now says it must hire more contact tracers to keep pace with infection and quarantines. The mayor’s team still has no comprehensive vaccine program for eligible students and families, and classroom and hallway overcrowding has derailed social distancing, even as ongoing ventilation issues persist in schools.
There is also ongoing frustration with delays in the district’s reporting of cases and quarantine to families and school communities.
“Families are understandably concerned, because they confront the real-life consequences of this virus,” President Sharkey said. “Our members are doing the very best they can in their schools, but we need the protection we had last winter and spring if we are truly serious about reducing harm.”
Negotiations between the Union and Acero management stand as an example of how an agreement can be reached to provide resources and protection for students and school communities. The school has contacted parents and is issuing the necessary devices and software for online learning, which begins tomorrow. The MOU also clearly spells out what instruction will be provided virtually, and what instruction will remain in person.
“What we’ve learned from Acero is that it is possible for bosses not to be completely inept,” Sharkey said.
Union negotiations with the district over safety plans for traditional neighborhood schools continued today.