As health officials raise alarm about rising COVID rates, CPS students in charter schools could be denied access to critical safety and mitigation tool unless District reverses course.
CHICAGO — Surveillance testing is an essential tool to monitor the current state of the COVID pandemic, and the CTU fought hard to win COVID testing in its February agreement with CPS to resume in-person learning.
Yet Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s hand-picked board of education has refused to provide Covid-19 testing for students and educators at CPS charter schools, even as charters plan to resume in-person instruction in the coming weeks. The CTU first learned that CPS had refused the requests of charter schools to participate in CPS’s COVID-19 testing program during bargaining this month with unionized operators on resuming in-person learning, and first raised the alarm with CPS at last Wednesday’s monthly board meeting.
While some charter schools have been able to secure tests on their own, with varying success, others expect to be forced to forgo any surveillance testing because the safety practice is cost-prohibitive without CPS’s help.
“No school that serves CPS students should be left on their own to provide one of the most basic tools — COVID-19 surveillance testing — to keep our school communities safe,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey, who wrote to CPS CEO Janice Jackson on Monday to urge her to reverse course. “The board didn’t force district-run schools to come out of their local school budgets for COVID-19 testing, and CPS students in charter schools deserve no less. This is a pandemic. Every CPS student has a right to safety and a right to recovery, and surveillance testing is a critical part of that effort.”
The availability of COVID-19 tests has vastly expanded in recent weeks, and CPS is on deck to receive nearly $2 billion in federal relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act to help fund safety needs like COVID testing.
At the same time, COVID continues to disproportionately hammer Chicago’s Black and Latinx neighborhoods, while the mayor’s dysfunctional vaccine distribution system has undercut access to vaccine appointments for residents in those communities.
Health officials have raised concerns that case numbers and hospitalization rates are rising again as new, more infectious variants are spreading. Chicago’s 7-day positivity rate is up more than 23%, and the daily case rate is up 34%, to 473 cases/day — well above the city’s target of 400 cases/day.
“We are far from out of the woods with this pandemic,” said Sharkey. “We have got to make sure that every safety mitigation protocol is in place, and testing is a critical component in identifying where the virus is and stopping the spread of the pandemic. We struggled for months to land basic safety guardrails — including testing — in CPS-run schools, because you cannot prevent spread if you cannot identify infection. The Board of Education has a responsibility to ensure that every CPS student and family gets the same essential protections, whether they’re in schools that CPS oversees like charters or schools that CPS runs directly. Anything less would be an appalling abandonment of responsibility for the safety of our CPS charter students and their families.”