Lightfoot won’t lay out public health criteria for proposed return in January as daily COVID-19 infection average nears 2,300 — nearly six times higher than the district’s remote learning cut-off of 400 per day in July.
CHICAGO, Nov. 17, 2020—The Chicago Teachers Union responded today to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s announcement of arbitrary dates to reopen school buildings while COVID-19 cases rise across Chicago and the U.S.
The announcement was made, per usual, without input from parents, students, educators or other critical stakeholders, and is wholly de-linked from any health criteria, including community infection rates.
“Today’s announcement appears to be based on the mayor’s political agenda, because it sure isn’t based on science,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster.”
Since the mayor and Chicago Public Schools ordered school clerks, technology coordinators, security guards and other workers back into largely empty buildings this fall, more than 150 schools have reported COVID-19 cases, according to information reported to the Union. Clerks, principals, assistant principals and lunch staff have become infected with COVID-19. Multiple families have contracted the virus, and at least one teacher and security guard have died.
“You don’t make decisions about somebody’s else’s children in back rooms,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “You need stakeholder input, family buy-in to give parents confidence and a uniform, collaborative plan to make it work.”
“Instead, we have the worst possible leadership at the worst possible time,” Davis Gates added. “Ironically, the mayor is the last person in America listening to the Trump administration when it comes to reopening schools; even the CDC has removed previous guidance from its website, and capitulated that schools are congregant settings where a virus like COVID-19 will spread.”
For weeks, CPS has been ignoring a binding arbitration decision to allow school clerks and others to work remotely, at the same time that the mayor’s handpicked district leaders refused to formally bargain with the Union. Instead, CPS poorly enforced school safety protocols, and unilaterally issued remote learning plans that parents and students say are inhumane and inadequate.
CPS has also refused to spell out its reopening criteria, including the maximum daily COVID-19 caseload that the district considers “safe” to reopen schools.
In July, city officials said a rolling seven-day average of 400 cases per day could trigger remote learning. Today, that rate is nearing 2,400, and rising, with the virus expected to continue surging in the coming months.
While CPS has said schools are safe to reopen, no study to date has examined reopening schools in a city like Chicago, where students frequently live in multigenerational families that rely on public transportation, confront high levels of poverty and with individuals who are essential workers already at higher risk for COVID-19.
“This mayor talks about equity, but where is the equity for the Black and Brown clerks she’s needlessly forcing to work in person, at the same time she’s telling Chicagoans to shelter in place?” Davis Gates said. “We can find the need for equity during a pandemic, but we can’t find it for the West Side, which only has four school libraries, or for predominantly Black schools and communities, which are chronically underfunded and under-resourced compared to others?”
Last week, CPS told the Union that it now considered educators to be essential workers as well, and as such, could unilaterally mandate a return to school buildings.
“Any science that CPS cites is an apples to oranges comparison, because the data about districts like ours remains limited, even as we’re still learning about this disease,” Sharkey said. “This mayor says the buck stops with her, and that she would lead during the pandemic with empathy and science, but returning thousands of people to schools as COVID rages is far from empathetic, and the science is unclear.”
“We know CPS can’t prove its ventilation systems are safe, and yet the mayor insists on pushing us into this cruel and dangerous experiment,” Davis Gates said. “That’s not equity; that’s a death sentence.”