Survey finds that members overwhelmingly demand success in managing COVID-19, with proven testing and contact tracing, before returning to classrooms.

CHICAGO, July 9, 2020—Nearly 5,000 educators responded to a member-wide Chicago Teachers Union survey, issued in mid-June, which asked them to begin thinking about the conditions required for Chicago Public Schools to safely re-open in the fall without risking the health of students and their families, and school staff and communities. Caught between the gross ineptitude of Donald Trump’s U.S. Department of Education, and the uncertainty from Chicago Public Schools, more than 85 percent of CTU member respondents feel they should not or might not go back to work in the fall without a detailed plan and resources that will help guarantee the safe re-opening of our schools.

“Our members have made it very clear that they are not willing to put the health—and the lives, quite frankly—of their students, or their students’ families, or their own in jeopardy under any circumstances, and especially now if the Trump administration is talking about using them as guinea pigs to help jumpstart the economy,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.

The Union is currently in negotiations with CPS on guarantees that schools will have what is necessary to open safely when appropriate. More than two-thirds of members surveyed said they would not return to work without masks, gloves and other PPE provided by the district, and required for everyone who enters a school building; the daily sanitizing of every surface in the building; a plan that would limit the number of students physically present in classrooms; class sizes that allow for students and staff to always be six feet apart; and multiple hand-washing stations throughout a building.

More than 85 percent of CTU member respondents feel they should not or might not go back to work in the fall without a commitment to school-based safety teams providing input on safety needs and plans; daily COVID-19 testing and temperature screening for everyone entering the building; a nurse or other health professional in every school, every day; remote learning options for particularly vulnerable students and staff; a transportation plan for students that involves distancing on school buses as well as Chicago Transit Authority buses and trains; and a social worker or counselor dedicated to helping students and staff in every school, every day.

Ninety-six percent of members said adequate devices and Internet connectivity for every student must be in place before returning to school, highlighting the digital void that exists for many Black and Brown students on the South and West sides of the city. Nearly 70 percent of rank-and-file members were not at all comfortable or mostly uncomfortable with the idea of medically compromised educators being forced to work in-person, in school in the fall.

Members in more than two dozen positions, from clinicians, social workers and special education, to art, Pre-K and PSRPs, submitted to the Union detailed concerns about what a return to in-person work must look like for their particular job and job duties.

Clinicians, for example, cited adequate space to meet with students (“i.e. not a closet”); special education teachers spoke of the need for PPE working in therapy situations or with students who do not comprehend social distancing (“Keeping students with autism or cognitive disabilities six feet apart will be a problem”); speech/language pathologists must have a way for their mouths to be visible to students so they can provide articulation therapy with speech sound errors; and primary teachers noted that “little people want to hug and they need a teacher’s touch,” while in Pre-K, keeping preschoolers social distant from one another may negatively impact them educationally, socially and emotionally.

School clerks, often in the most trafficked part of the building, should no longer be required to perform nurse duties of administering medicine or tending to injuries and illnesses.

“We’re not blind to the fact that this is a tremendous undertaking, and it’s going to take the re-imagining of how we deliver public education,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “This pandemic has already transformed how we teach, and how our students learn, and now is the time for CPS and districts across the country to transform themselves. How we do public education needs to represent what educators and parents—not the federal government—are saying their schools need.”

“Doing it the Donald Trump way has resulted in three million people infected and nearly 150,000 dying from COVID-19,” Davis Gates said. “The Trump way is a death sentence.”

In a district that is nearly 90 percent Black and Latinx, members surveyed said that schools in communities that have been highly vulnerable to COVID-19 should have a connection to testing sites—or testing in the school itself—so that families without health insurance or those reluctant to go to the hospital for citizenship reasons can be tested without worry. Families also need protection against foreclosures, evictions and utility shut offs, and other economic supports like direct cash payments, free and sustainable transit, and free Internet.

“This is really about equity, about keeping students, parents and educators involved in planning and decision-making, and about the day-to-day life in a school that the pandemic revealed when schools closed in March.” President Sharkey said. “Educators do a lot, but it’s not just what we do, but what we experience…people were surprised to learn that schools didn’t have warm water, or windows that opened, but this is everyday life for our members, who are legitimately frightened and concerned, but ready to fight for what is needed for all members to return to school when it is safe.”