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Pre-K drop driven by a number of factors, including a confusing registration process, district refusal to collaborate with educators and parents and mayor’s failure to provide devices for Pre-K students.

CHICAGO, Oct. 16, 2020Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates issued the following statement today in response to 20th day enrollment numbers and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to push medically vulnerable and Pre-K students back into unsafe buildings this November.

It is dangerous and irresponsible to unilaterally roll out a plan without consultation or cooperation with our members and CPS families. But this is what happens when CPS refuses to bargain over basic safety protocols, or engage in transparency or accountability.

Forcing at-risk students back into unsafe buildings because CPS has failed to support these students during remote learning is precisely the wrong approach to take. And today’s announcement of a drop in 20th day enrollment is directly linked to the district’s failure in providing equity for its students.

It’s no surprise that the biggest decrease came from Black and Latinx families, which have struggled to access devices and broadband Internet. The district imposed a Pre-K registration system on parents that is unworkable, and has failed to ensure that every school community has a nurse to monitor students and staff during a deadly pandemic.

And now, the district ignores an arbitrator’s ruling that our buildings are, in fact, unsafe for anyone, let alone medically vulnerable students and our youngest learners.

It’s a recipe for failure.

COVID-19 has taken nearly a quarter of a million lives in the U.S. How many more deaths are acceptable to CPS as it undertakes this dangerous experiment, when we know that schools across the nation that have reopened during the pandemic have been forced to close after coronavirus cases have surfaced?

If CPS cannot keep workers safe today, when buildings are staffed by only a handful of people, how will it ensure safety for thousands of students and workers in a few weeks? This district has a long history of undercutting special education—long before a global pandemic—and we are now being asked to take on faith that the mayor can reverse that history in a matter of weeks? Make it make sense.

Our special education cluster students are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of severe health challenges, yet CPS and the mayor will ask these students and their families to travel by bus with unclear safety guarantees. And it’s cruel to expect 4-year-old Pre-K children to return to buildings where they cannot hug their teachers or play with their classmates, let alone allow their teachers to easily manage the runny noses, potty breaks and other issues that come with caring for young children.

We welcome the opportunity to actually collaborate with CPS to land a memorandum of understanding that maps out real equity and safety for our students, workers and families during this pandemic. A good start would be addressing the equity proposals we’ve put on the table—from a nurse in every school, to more supports for special education students and a more sustainable remote learning plan.

Because in this pandemic, we’re confronting more than just CPS’ chronic refusal to address the educational and social-emotional needs of our students. Now the district is literally putting lives on the line by marching students and workers back into unsafe buildings with no transparency, no answers to critical questions and no meaningful stakeholder engagement.

Our students and the educators who serve them deserve better. We deserve answers. We deserve safety guarantees, transparency, collaboration and the right to survive this pandemic.

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.