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CHICAGO, Jan. 8, 2021—Thousands of Chicago Public Schools teachers, clinicians and staff returning to school buildings last Monday found conditions far below the standards and promises touted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools in preparation for opening doors to students on Jan. 11. Throughout the week, educators submitted photos, video and detailed reports of their findings, which included no masks available upon arrival, empty hand sanitizer dispensers, hallways filled with debris from locker installation and brown water in bathroom sinks.

Many classrooms appeared as if they had not been cleaned since the district’s initial shutdown last March, while in others, window treatments remained covered in dust or with windows that would not stay open at all — despite CPS’ claim that “we worked to ensure every classroom has a working window or a mechanical ventilation system to dilute air particles that may have viruses or bacteria and allow old air to move out of the classroom.”

One school was asking workers whose rooms had no portable HEPA filters to sign a release saying they would not hold the school “liable for any health consequence of been [sic] in the building.”

A common concern was the Intellipure Compact air purifiers provided by the district, which work “best if used in spaces below 500 sq. feet,” according to the company website, but are being deployed by CPS to ‘protect’ much larger classrooms.

(Click here for additional photos, videos and reports submitted by CTU members this week.)

“CPS and the mayor are saying that they desperately want to open schools, but in many buildings, they’ve done nothing to make conditions any safer — and that’s without the threat of a pandemic,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “Parents, students, teachers, community groups and elected officials aren’t demanding that CPS and the mayor keep buildings closed; they’re demanding that they exhaust all resources in making schools as safe as possible before reopening.”

CPS allowed some carefully staged “inspections” of school buildings to television news this week, but educators want the district to honor its contractual right to inspect school ventilation systems as well. CPS has repeatedly cancelled or refused to schedule those contractually allowed safety inspections by independent experts, just as the district told its own contractors not to test ventilation systems for their ability — or failure — to remove virus particles from classrooms.

Educators are choosing safety, just like the overwhelming majority of Black and Brown families they serve. More than half of the teachers scheduled to start teaching directly from unsafe school buildings on Monday chose to work remotely, with those numbers growing throughout the week as educators who did go in identified serious safety concerns in their schools. Among them:

The work conditions when arriving to work today showed schools are not prepared. To begin with, there is no Lysol proved to teachers. The bathrooms were not cleaned. The bathroom door does not close. The classroom is freezing. The heater (that doesn’t work) leaks water into the whole classroom where students are seated. The janitor has come in twice before 12 to clean up the water because it leaks a large amount of water. We were not provided with any tissues. We had to supply our own. There is only one supply of hand sanitizer. There is only one set of paper towels. There is a small humidifier but I don’t see how a household humidifier is supposed to circulate the air with multiple kids in a classroom — more kids than a normal household. It’s upsetting that the district claims to have procedures and safety plans put in place when they can’t even provide us with a clean bathroom and tissues — the basics of a healthy environment. —Stagg Elementary teacher

My classroom was only 57 degrees the whole time I was there. I wanted to wear gloves to keep my hands from freezing but I couldn’t use the Chromebook with them on. —Swift Elementary teacher

When my temperature was taken, it said 90.7 degrees (hypothermia), which was highly inaccurate. There are no air purifiers in gym, gym office, multipurpose room, annex teacher’s lounge, or classrooms 408, 407 and 406. —Funston Elementary teacher

Over half of the hand sanitizing stations in the school do not work. Teachers were put into classrooms with machines that were full but didn’t work. —Northside College Prep teacher

Some classrooms are still fully set up from last school year meaning they have never been cleaned. The other classrooms look like tornados and are caked with dust and dirt. —Beethoven Elementary teacher

Our admin team is working hard to give us what we need, and they are thankfully very responsive and helpful — but only with the information they can give us. They still don’t know answers to half of our questions, and CPS is not providing them or us any answers…Heat is still not working in the majority of our classrooms, and we asked about extra air filters to accommodate our HUGE classroom sizes (over 1000 feet) and were told there was nothing that could be done. —Lane Tech teacher

The only difference in my classroom is the air filter and safety posters that were provided. Thus far I have not received any PPE, cleaning supplies, etc. that were promised. I am using my PERSONAL device to teach remotely from school. My SECA and I are talking over each other and echoing through each other’s Google Meet because we don’t have headphones. I can go on and on. This is ridiculous! There is no plan. And what little plan there was isn’t even being executed to the fullest. This is not safe or equitable for anyone involved. And the worst part is we had no choice but to return. —Gary Elementary teacher

Custodial Staff is out due to COVID. —McAuliffe Elementary Teacher

Nearly two-thirds of all CPS families — disproportionately Black and Brown families — have elected to remain safe at home and engage in remote learning. Some schools are reporting that no students will return, yet CPS and the mayor insist that educators return to teach remotely from their classrooms instead of the safety of their homes, even as the virus continues to surge throughout the city.

More Local School Councils are also formally opposing CPS’ reckless reopening plan, including Pulaski and Whittier elementary schools, which notified CPS this week of their opposition to CPS’ unsafe reopening to students.

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.