Spending these past two years surrounded on all sides by a dangerous and deadly virus has been a hardship on everyone. In the midst of this crisis, I am grateful for your unity, your strength and your sacrifice as we are navigating a treacherous COVID-19 pandemic.

We have made sure to center the predominantly Black and Brown students and families we serve, who have endured the most intense consequences of the pandemic. CTU members tackled an intense obstacle course in which no choice or direction has been obvious or easy to make. We are proud to have made those tough decisions together.

Because members have stood together and sacrificed, we have an opportunity to navigate the next phases of the pandemic from a position of strength. We have an agreement that will hold masking, testing and other key mitigations in place until the end of the year — mitigations that protect every school community in our city, and do not create one set of rules for North Side schools with high vaccinates rates, and another set of rules for South and West side school communities where vaccinates rates are less than 25 percent.

And the power you built continues to yield dividends throughout the state. Last night, the Illinois House of Representatives passed HB1167, which creates COVID-19 sick days to compensate for quarantine periods for employees or employees’ children, and restores sick days previously used for such quarantines. The bill, now headed to the Senate, applies to all school employees and explicitly includes employees at charter schools. Education champions intend to move the bill quickly through the Senate and get it to the governor’s office for signature.

Also coming from downstate are right-wing attacks on safety led by an opportunistic attorney, Tom Devore, that have sown chaos in many school districts across the state. Why does Devore, who hails from a town 50 miles south of Springfield, care so much about educators, children and families in Chicago Public Schools? Why were there no downstate lawsuits filed on behalf of thousands of special education students who struggled with transportation this year? These attacks are what make our safety agreement so essential in this moment, and as we look past spring break and toward the end of the school year, we want to anticipate the climate to come and make contingencies that will maintain our right to fight for safety.

As always, we will make decisions together and move from a position of what will keep educators, students and families safe. Polling has overwhelmingly shown that mask mandates are still supported by parents and many throughout the U.S., and we stand behind that support, especially with an unvaccinated pre-kindergarten population and low vaccination rates in many vulnerable school communities. We also know student and parent concerns best because these are the families we work with daily, so we will continue to organize and fight on their behalf.

As a first step, we want to hear from every school, district-run and charter alike, through this Masking & Recovery survey. What are you experiencing in your school? What are your fears? What are you hearing from co-workers, from students and from family members? How has safety implementation been going in your school so far? Your voice now will help us weigh our options and lead toward a safe and sensible path going forward.

As always, I am grateful and I am humbled by the passion and the commitment you bring to every aspect of our shared endeavor — fighting for the schools our students deserve. Thank you for all you do.