As students struggle to access remote learning, top-down CPS planning undercuts voices of families, insights of educators, and needs of district’s most disadvantaged students.
CHICAGO, May 27, 2020—CTU President Jesse Sharkey released the following statement today in the wake of news that thousands of students are struggling to access remote learning:
CPS released data today that shows that thousands of working class and low-income students, homeless students and students of color are struggling to access and engage within CPS’ digital learning platforms. The mayor who runs the school district must do better as she continues to push for schools to open this fall.
The data tells us that thousands of vulnerable students are being locked out of the kind of seamless engagement they need to learn and grow socially and emotionally. We must do more than simply attempt to paint an upbeat face on data. Instead, CPS must craft policies that address the inequity we know students and families are confronting—inequity that our members work tirelessly to attempt to erase throughout the school year.
We need more than emergency remote learning, especially since we know it’s possible that in-school learning next fall may continue to be beyond reach. CPS must give teachers and school support staff the opportunity to reflect on and refine practices and establish best practices, especially as students struggle to access remote learning. CPS needs to join with educators, students and their families to reflect on what engagement data tells us and work to create infrastructures that will allow every student to learn and grow.
Structural racism has undermined our students’ access to essential needs like broadband and electronic devices, while years of austerity have shredded this city’s social and economic safety nets. Millions of immigrant households are ineligible for any relief from the federal government, while thousands of Black and Brown students are now serving as essential workers at grocery stores and delivery services as they help their families make ends meet in the wake of massive local and national job losses. Many students are caring for younger family members as their parents go out to work, and some are serving as ad hoc health care workers for infirm family members.
It would be refreshing to see CPS step up and challenge these dynamics and call for remedies that support every student, instead of pushing bad policies around key services like special education that mitigate district liability rather than support students. CPS data, however incomplete, should be used to inform partnerships and practices, with educators at the center of creating the policies we take forward in remote learning, as the Illinois State Board of Education has mandated.
COVID-19 has taken over 100,000 lives in the United States alone. People are traumatized, struggling, sick and dying. Our first goal must be to take care of students and their families—their material, emotional, psychological and educational needs—and plan for a future that will likely include at least intermittent remote learning. Educators at the ground level must be empowered to bring their insights and experience to the table, to seek remedies and supports for students and families that address their struggles and experiences, and tackle the needs of whole school communities.
The old patterns that allow an appointed school board to simply rubber stamp CPS executives will fail our students at this time of tremendous need. To move forward, educators and the students and families they serve must be at the center of developing and deploying policies that are grounded in the needs of our students and school communities.