Mayor and CPS finally relent to releasing ventilation data, but fail to test HVAC systems properly or allow independent verification as parents and educators call for more transparency and involvement in safety discussions.
CHICAGO, Nov. 4, 2020—Despite announcing an investment in school ventilation today, Chicago Public Schools continues to refuse to identify criteria that would trigger a return to in-person learning. In July, district officials said daily case numbers must be below 400 per day, and below 200 per day with mitigating factors like high community transmission or positivity rates.
Chicago’s daily case average is currently more than three times higher, at 1,271 cases per day and rising. The city’s overall positivity rate is at 10 percent, and more than double that in some South and West side communities where Black and Brown populations have shouldered a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths since the pandemic started.
“CPS and the mayor shouldn’t break their arms patting themselves on the back, because today’s announcement also raises some red flags,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “We’re not where we need to be in terms of systemic safety issues that must be addressed, or in terms of actually verifying CPS data, which is a contractual right they continue to deny us.”
CPS’ ventilation inspections allegedly reviewed the design of onsite ventilation systems, but failed to assess the exchange of fresh air in classrooms, an essential measure to determine safety from virus transmission — especially when windows must be closed in winter. That scenario raises real alarms about the efficacy of CPS’ safety assurances, given the growing body of evidence that poor air circulation in tight spaces like classrooms can accelerate virus spread.
Even as COVID-19 is surging to record levels across Chicago, CPS is asserting that a classroom is safe if it has a window that could provide ventilation through the winter months. CPS regulations say room temperatures must not fall below 68 degrees, however.
“Windows also must be able open,” Sharkey said. “We have thousands of classrooms throughout the city where windows do not open properly.”
CPS and the mayor are also keeping secret the results of a survey of parents of pre-kindergarten and special education students that they are trying to return to school buildings for in-person learning this month. Positive cases of the deadly coronavirus have surfaced at nearly 100 CPS buildings since the school year began in September with limited staffing, and prior to any students reporting for classroom instruction.
Two more school clerks contracted COVID-19 last week, as these overwhelmingly Black and Brown women are experiencieng COVID-19 spikes in their neighborhoods, which have already shouldered a disproportionate burden of illnesses and death from the pandemic.
An independent arbitrator this week rejected an effort by CPS and the mayor to reopen and relitigate an October 2 binding ruling that schools were unsafe for return. On Thursday, Nov. 5, the Labor Board will hold a hearing on the Union’s request for an injunction to force CPS to honor the arbitrator’s ruling.