The following message was sent as an e-mail to CTU delegates on March 24, 2020:

We hope you are staying informed and connected during this time. We want to provide some guidance and support for managing staff and student concerns.

We also know that as staff, you are part of a greater community, and families may be reaching out to you. Most important is to stay calm, healthy and safe. This, too, shall pass. When it is does, we want members to feel united and supported. Also important is the need to recover from this crisis and rebuild our communities. As we manage our day-to-day, remember how our demands for more nurses, more resources and clean schools have preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. No one predicted this, but now that it is here, it is a reminder that what we fight for is important, and the issues we raise have relevance far beyond our classrooms.

Ways to communicate

Since we are all confined to our homes, there are a number of tools that make it easy for Professional Problems Committees (PPCs), Contract Action Teams (CATs) and school committees to communicate. Email, Zoom, texting apps like WhatsApp, Remind and Signal, and good old-fashioned phone calls are the way to go.

If you have questions, you should continue to use your PPC and CAT to communicate internally and see if the issue is isolated or deeply felt. You should also stay in touch about work updates and responsibilities, and use CPS-approved vendors for student and parent interaction in your work functions. For union organizing, however, do not use CPS platforms; do use the personal communication tools that are best for members of your school communities and functional groups.

This is a time to connect

Don’t keep to yourself! Some teams have met virtually to address questions, and discuss how to check in with and take care of each other while working from home. Delegates and CATs should be reaching out to fellow members to make sure they are healthy, have what they need and provide moral support. Now is the time to use your phone trees to make sure you’re all connected, and understanding that your members may be experiencing different reactions to this crisis.

Professional Problems Committee Professional Personnel Leadership Committee (PPLC) Contract Action Team

These teams should begin to reconstitute and move their work to electronic means (email threads, voice/video conferences) to solicit concerns from members about workload and other school issues. Work together to collectively communicate with administrators in a courteous and professional manner to ask for clarity on policy, and to advocate on behalf of members. If a directive from administration seems overly onerous, PPCs or CATs could email them asking, “What will happen if we are unable to comply?” or “How is this aligned to the CPS district guidance that we received by email, as we do not see this included?”

If administrators are threatening discipline, PPC members and CATs can help email or speak up on conference calls on behalf of individuals or groups impacted. Together, you can say and do your best to comply, but communicate if you are unable. If members have questions about policies, discuss possible solutions as a group via your text threads, phone trees, email threads or other discussion spaces. Be professional, as it is always possible that your communication could be shared with administrators.

Always err on the side of engaging members rather than dealing with issues in isolation. Let your principal know that decisions should be made together. Effectively and courteously use contract language or propose alternate solutions. For example, PPLCs can meet to discuss what they want to see in next year’s budget. Bilingual teachers can prepare to order culturally relevant curriculum, given new wins in our contract.

Email and social media

Check your CPS and CTU emails for any updates or information from staff or the Union. Communicate with administration through your PPC and CATs on your CPS email. Use your personal email lists for union organizing. Brainstorm a plan for members to update parents of changes, meal distribution or technology distribution at your school, or to find out what needs parents are having in regards to insurance, housing or food. Use the school’s website, robo-calls, social media, etc. to share those updates.

Many members are using the CTU members only Facebook group to discuss issues across our city and boost collective morale. We can also use social media as an opportunity for mutual aid (e.g. if one family needs a ride to get groceries, and another family can do it in exchange for a meal). A younger adult may have some time off work and can help an older adult who needs a ride to the doctor, or help talking to the insurance company. Create Google docs that can be shared in school communities.

Important links and petitions

Resources for STLS families
Resources are available for Students in Temporary Living Situations—students who may be homeless, “doubled up” or in a similar situation—through Chicago Public Schools to help them get through this COVID-19 emergency.

Right to Recovery
The spread of coronavirus has laid bare the gaping holes in our public health and social safety net infrastructure, as well as the brutal inequality built into our economy. We need comprehensive Right to Recovery legislation that includes vital protection for the many, and in particular members of our community who are most at risk—frontline workers, seniors and those struggling with housing and debt.

Illinois Youth Prisons COVID Response
When it comes to COVID-19, the young people committed to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice are among the most vulnerable youth in the State of Illinois. Sign this letter to support incarcerated youth.

Healthcare Workers Need Protective Equipment Now
As many of us practice social distancing, remain at home and watch our schools, arenas and malls close down, we see our frontline workers risking their health for us. Support healthcare workers and the need for protective equipment to reduce risk of getting sick, spreading the virus and possibly dying.

COVID-19 South Side Community Resource Guide

Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid & How to Organize in the Age of Coronavirus