I’m feeling a bit of déjà vu in writing this, because exactly a year ago at this time we were in the midst of another post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike. This year, the going hasn’t gotten any easier for many of our school communities. The joy of having our students back in person, five days a week, was tempered by increased trauma in our buildings due to violence and personal loss. And that’s on top of the COVID-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc on our daily lives.
In track and field, runners are taught to run through the tape at the finish line. Right now, we’re halfway through the race and our muscles are already cramping up. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that today is the last day before we break for winter, a break that you have absolutely, without question earned in full — especially this year.
Enjoy this break to the fullest. Live for yourself and your loved ones. Take this time to recharge and embrace the things in your life that bring you the most joy.
And please also keep a few of our school communities in your hearts. Yesterday and today, zero students were in attendance at Park Manor Elementary on the South Side. There, five staff members (including the principal) and 11 students have tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Park Manor educators shared their experience this morning at a press conference about conditions at the school, where 174 out of 250 total students — close to 70 percent of the school population — are in quarantine.
The situation is no better at the Fuller School of Excellence, where 233 out of 299 students (78 percent) were in quarantine this week, and close to a dozen teachers were sent home yesterday. We are also seeing crises on a national scale at places like Cornell University, which has shut down its Ithaca, New York campus after more than 900 students — with a 99 percent student vaccination rate, mind you — tested positive for COVID-19 in one week.
Yet locally, Mayor Lightfoot and her top doctor continue to bury their heads in the sand and insist schools are safe. They refuse to adopt a metric for determining when schools should revert to remote learning. They refuse to expand testing and vaccinations to all students. They refuse to empower on-the-ground safety committees with the ability to act in the interest of maximum safety. And they refuse to work cooperatively with our union to deploy a robust safety plan that will keep our members, students and school communities safe.
We’ve said all along that we need a willing partner across the table to address the serious threat that COVID-19 and its variants pose. That need is greater today, and will be even greater when we return in January as we deal with the new, more transmissible Omicron variant that is already in Illinois.
Today, I sent a letter to Mayor Lightfoot imploring her to change course and direct her CPS bargaining team to collaborate with us on a set of safety protocols to have in place before the end of winter break. You are the trusted voice in your school, and for any safety plan to work, your voice must be heard and respected as an equal and valuable partner. So please keep sharing that voice with us at leadership@ctulocal1org.
Also, please keep your school families informed, especially around the take-home COVID-19 tests the district is sending home with many of you. Send reminders for them to take and return the test as soon as possible. This data will be key in helping CPS determine a course of action in the coming weeks.
Finally, please keep an eye on your email for further developments from the Union, and enjoy your much-deserved time off. My wish for you is safe, restful holiday joy, and my best to you and yours.