Mayor’s CPS team must invest $1.8 billion in COVID relief for desperately needed safety, supports for traumatized students, and support 80% vax targets for school communities.

CHICAGO, July 9, 2021 — The Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement today in response to new masking guidelines for schools from the CDC, and from IDPH:

Today’s new guidance from the CDC and IDPH triggers more questions than answers — and underscores the critical importance of strong school-based vaccination campaigns.

Our Black and Brown school communities lie in neighborhoods that have struggled to access vaccinations, at the same time that those neighborhoods have been disproportionately hammered by COVID. Vaccination rates in Chicago’s neighborhoods mirror the segregation, disinvestment and inequity of this city.

At the same time, Mayor Lightfoot has $1.8 billion in incoming COVID relief funds to improve mitigation and ensure safety for our students and schools. We urge the mayor’s CPS team to reconsider our proposal for an 80% vaccination target rate as a benchmark in creating a strong school vaccination campaign to maximize the safety of our students, educators and school communities. And we urge the mayor to invest in more supports for students confronting gross inequities that have only been intensified by this pandemic, including the counseling, social-emotional and trauma supports students need.

While we support the goal of returning every student safely to in-person learning this fall, we are concerned that the vast majority of our students, both under 12 and those 12 and up eligible for shots, remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to catching and transmitting COVID-19, even as the Delta variant continues to spread. Setting benchmarks is critical. Addressing questions about implementation is paramount.

75% of families did not return their students to classrooms this spring, and yet more than 1,000 COVID cases surfaced in our schools last year. Answering the questions that this guidance raises is critical to building confidence among parents and students to return students to schools, and keep them safe once they’re there.

How, for example, will CPS address mixed messages to young children if vaccinated adults don’t wear masks? How will CPS ensure that they are not putting people’s health at risk based on complicated compliance under these new mask guidelines, rather than maintaining masks until percentages of vaccination are much higher? How will we improve on slow testing and notification of COVID cases in our schools? What guidance will CPS promulgate for sixth-8th graders in classes with mixed mask requirements, to help them navigate any confusion over mask requirements? How will CPS handle questions of medical privacy? How will the mayor use vaccine buses at schools in communities with low vaccination rates to provide assurances of safety to parents reluctant about sending their children back to school? How will CPS assure that adults, students and school community members who are not vaccinated will wear masks and respect the honor system in place so far? How will CPS ask teachers to enforce masking requirements in classrooms where children have different vaccination statuses? How will CPS advise teachers and support staff of which students should — or should not — wear masks? How will the mayor and CPS ensure that “incentives” to get more people vaccinated in school communities actually work? Will CPS develop recommendations to address any bullying of students who must wear masks?

We look forward to addressing these questions in bargaining. But it’s critical that the mayor and CPS participate in deep engagement with students and families, as well, on these issues, in order to provide families with the safety, equity and trust they need to return their children to our school communities this fall.

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.