Safety for students and their educators must be top priority for CPS fall school re-openings.

CHICAGO—CTU President Jesse Sharkey issued the following statement in response to the release today of new ISBE guidance re opening schools this fall.

“While Governor Pritzker and ISBE have so far been helpful and clear on policies and guidance regarding contending with COVID-19, Illinois’ size and geographic diversity was bound to catch up with the state’s ability to issue useful guidance. Today’s guidance from ISBE is both too general and too vague to serve as a useful road map for CPS. In short, we’re going to be required to figure out many of the most critical features of school work for ourselves, in bargaining.

“We are not just educators. Thousands of us are also CPS parents. While we very much want to get back to classes, the safety of our students, their families and the educators who serve them is our top priority. Safe resumption of in-person learning will require respectful dialogue with all stakeholders—including parents, community members, and the unions representing CPS employees.

“It is clear from ISBE’s guidance that school is going to be very different in the fall. The ISBE document recognizes that it is possible, or even likely that we go back and forth between in-person and remote school, or have in-person school but retain elements of remote school—a so-called “blended” approach. ISBE has also focused on prioritizing the needs of students LEAST able to access remote learning: “In-person instruction should be prioritized for students with IEPs, English Learners, and students under the age of 13.” ISBE also clearly expects significant changes to the way the school calendar and school day looks, from changes to the curriculum and the way instruction is delivered to schedules and seating arrangements.

“Science increasingly shows that the virus is spread mainly through people breathing on each other for prolonged periods of time. Unfortunately, so much of traditional school involves exactly that practice. Think of students huddled around groups of desks or tables, working on assignments, or discussing material in groups. Sitting in enclosed spaces and talking or working on paper is the quintessential school activity.

“Keeping us safe will require more than just hand sanitizer—it will require school re-organization and resources to make that re-organization work. That means that having a nurse in every building every day is more important than ever. Making our classes smaller and spreading out to safely engage in social distancing is more important than ever. Having enough paraprofessionals in our schools to stay in close contact with parents and to encourage young people to wear masks is more important than ever. Reallocating the $33 million we’re spending on cops in schools to ensure that every school has a nurse, a social worker, a restorative justice coordinator and adequate staffing is more important than ever.

“Over the next several weeks, we will be engaged in a very critical series of discussions with both our own members and with Mayor Lightfoot’s school officials. Expect us to advocate for the schools our children deserve—just as we always have. And know that we will not be silent if CPS plans fail to meet the safety needs of our students and school communities.”

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at