Mayor Lightfoot has been running around the city claiming that schools are safe and ready to open and she has “a mountain of evidence” to prove it. That evidence is the MOA that she and her CPS team agreed to last year — the very same MOA they are refusing to agree to today. The layered mitigations that the mayor touts as successful — the layers she has yet to agree to for this fall — worked at a time when only 25% of our families returned their children to schools last winter and spring. Yet today, with 100% of our families returning, the mayor has rolled back those important layered mitigations, as Delta continues to spread. How does this make sense?
Needless to say, we left today’s bargaining session frustrated, bewildered and fearful about the mayor’s continued insistence on rolling back the layered mitigation protocols she agreed to last year, guardrails that made reopening in the spring safer.
The mayor wants to roll back 75 percent of the mitigation strategies in place last year, including:
- Social distancing. CPS agreed to six feet of social distancing last year. This year the district has only agreed to three feet and only “where possible.” That loophole means it won’t happen in many classrooms and we’ve already got our own evidence from members to prove it.
- Mandatory COVID testing. CPS has said it might test as few as 10 percent of eligible students which means we’ll never know the true spread of the virus throughout the district, which is exactly the point.
- Health screeners. CPS is relying on families to do their own screening at home and insists students’ presence at school means they’ve passed. That’s not just crazy, it’s dangerous.
CPS told us today they want members to get their remote instruction platforms ready, which means simultaneous instruction is coming and the district is too cheap to hire the additional staff to make it work for educators and students. The mayor has $4 billion at her disposal but she refuses to invest any of those funds in the staff we need to provide quality instruction — remote or in-person — to our students.
We also saw, once again, the mayor’s disregard for our special education students and the legal and moral obligations to serve them. In the event of the inevitable student quarantines, she believes we only need to provide 25 percent of the minutes and services to which special ed students are entitled.
As a parent and a teacher myself, the things CPS continues to assert at the table — and the mayor’s pronouncements in the press — simply make no sense. It’s clear that their primary concern is to reopen, to get students in seats, regardless of what happens down the road. With the Delta variant on the loose and without the proper, layered mitigation protocols we are demanding, that road is a dangerous one.
One thing is clear: our schools will not be ready for students on Aug. 30. We will continue to bargain every day but rational, logical arguments at the table don’t move Mayor Lightfoot. If they did, we wouldn’t be less than a week away from the first day of school without a signed safety agreement. We know what moves the mayor.
We need our members, parents, students and communities to begin speaking out and make their dissatisfaction heard. Demand a remote option for students and insist the mayor devote the resources and staffing to make it work. She has the money to do it.
We understand there is no way to be completely “safe” during a global pandemic. But by staying strong and united — and by building coalitions with our parents and communities — we can make our schools safer. That’s what our fight has always been about.