Lack of PPE and enforced safety protocols among top concerns of workers being forced back into Chicago Public Schools buildings.
CHICAGO, September 1, 2020—Reports from rank-and-file Chicago Teachers Union members reveal vast gaps in personal protective equipment (PPE), safety and cleaning, with exactly a week before the Sept. 8 start of classes in Chicago Public Schools.
As educators return to buildings, they are finding that PPE, safety and cleaning protocols are completely inconsistent, uncoordinated and inadequate, and do not inspire confidence in a safe start to the school year. The conditions also do not mitigate risk, and will not consistently keep people safe as CPS demands more people enter school buildings.
Overall, clerks, clinicians, tech coordinators and other workers returning to more than 100 buildings are seeing little enforcement of even basic safety standards during a global pandemic that has taken almost 200,000 lives in the U.S. alone. The school district’s safety failures come as CPS is pressuring workers to return to unprepared buildings—even when they could clearly continue to do their work remotely.
CPS has so far refused to bargain in-school safety conditions with the CTU, and many workers are deeply concerned as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s school officials are trying to force more workers—including occupational and physical therapists, speech language pathologists, social workers, school psychologists and sign language interpreters—back into buildings.
“Our members are being asked to work in hazardous conditions at the same time their employer refuses to guarantee—or even discuss—safety needs with our union,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “This is a blatant breach of employees’ right to safe working conditions, and it unnecessarily risks every person who enters those school buildings—from parents seeking to register their kids for school to frontline workers like school clerks who are registering those very students.
“This is a deadly global virus, and CPS is endangering our rank-and-file members by requiring them in person for work that they could be doing remotely.”
The CTU has been trying for months to work collaboratively with CPS to guarantee safety for school staff, but the district has refused, repeatedly telling the Union it doesn’t have to bargain on those issues. That stance defies labor law, the Illinois State Board of Ed and state guidance during the pandemic, forcing the Union to file a series of grievances and an unfair labor practice complaint to challenge CPS’ refusal to bargain an agreement on safety protocols and standards.
CTU members already working in school buildings have been sharing information about the conditions they have found. Reports like the following are pouring in from schools:
- “It was obvious that my classroom was never ‘deep cleaned.’ For example, the students’ chairs still had crumbs and milk spills on them. The room was covered in a layer of dust.”
- “We are sitting here with nothing to do but to wait for calls to come in. Purchase orders, mail, payroll, checking and returning phone calls, internal accounts, payroll and student fees—I did all of these tasks and more from my home last semester.”
- “The last two years we have had kindergarteners hospitalized with the flu. We do not have enough custodians to properly clean. They were told last year ’10 minutes per room.’ They don’t have time for their regular duties, much less the enhanced cleaning protocol. Aramark won’t change anything. CPS won’t do anything either. I’m afraid I’ll die if we go back during COVID-19.”
- “I worked this summer because I am a single parent who simply needs to earn extra money when possible. That’s just the fact. My concern is that CPS has not set up the office with the proper PPE. If we were starting Sept. 8 with students, it’s obvious we were not a priority. I have three kids—and two have asthma. I have high blood pressure. It’s just upsetting that we work so hard and we really love our jobs, our schools, the families, the community. Yet it feels like we are no one to CPS. Cashiers at every store have plexiglass protectors. But CPS clerks had to come to work without theirs?”
- “Throughout the 2019-20 school year, I successfully completed my duties remotely. Now, I’ve been asked to risk my safety by interacting with hundreds of students to complete tasks that can be done remotely.”
- “I have felt so much anxiety. Just thinking about what I’m going into: no cleaning station, no shield, no markers on the floor! I feel as if I’ve been sent into the lion’s den covered in blood!”
- “I do not have a sneeze guard/plexiglass at my desk. Also, security just received their sneeze guard today and school has officially been open since last Wednesday. There have been parents coming in the building even when the sneeze guard was not there. There are no marks on the floor as of yet for safe distancing around the building or in the main office.”
- “Dirty vents, no floor signage, no disinfectant wipes provided by CPS, staff not obeying the six foot distance requirements. A single pen for completing health screener form used between employees. No 6’ distance signs by main office.”
- “We have not received PPE, and school registration is taking place over the next few days. We have thousands of students at school, with each grade level having a designated registration day over the next three days.”
- “Main office was dirty yesterday, office floor and main hallway were being waxed this morning. Could not find a clean room with a working computer so was sent home.”
- “Relatives of employees entered without screening or wearing a mask. Hand sanitizer machines were still being installed. Those that were installed were empty.”
- “I saw one small sneeze guard at the security desk, which doesn’t even cover the desk. An engineer said that was the only one CPS is sending.”
- “Water fountains are shut off. Bathrooms do not seem to be regularly cleaned. Door handles do not seem to be cleaned daily.”
- “No testing before entering. No mask and no real hand sanitizer, only sanitizer that co-workers brought.”
- “I don’t feel the building is safe during COVID. I want to stay home for my and my husband’s health.”
- “When I was cleaning out my desk, it was full of rodent droppings.”