Photo of a poster, written in Spanish, with hand print cutouts promoting the wearing of face masks in school.

Organizing, communication key to building strong committee with support among staff and parents

With 43 percent of classes in quarantine in late January, the Nixon Elementary Safety Committee sprang into action. After a three-hour meeting, the committee decided to flip the entire school to remote.

That decision did not come lightly, and support for the safety committee didn’t materialize overnight. The committee had been organizing and communicating with the school community since it was first established last March. So when faced with a crisis, members knew how to respond.

With CPS lifting the mask mandate — without bargaining with the CTU, a clear violation of our safety agreement — organizing and communication in buildings will be as important as ever. Fortunately, Nixon’s safety committee remains ready to roll.

A strong start for safety

At the start of the school year, the committee sent weekly emails to all staff addressing their questions and concerns. Worries at the time included masking, sanitizing, promoting social distancing, and proper air filtration — the very safety mitigations for which members had fought and sacrificed.

Next, members organized a safety poster contest for the entire school to promote best practices. The posters were displayed throughout the building, with the contest winner displayed on the wall in front of the office.

“These posters served as a reminder for everyone — put your mask on, wear it properly, keep social distance,” one member told us. “It helped keep our school safe and aware of the safety protocols and our obligation to enforce them.”

Flip to remote

COVID has hit Nixon’s community hard since the beginning of the pandemic. During the omicron surge this winter, eight to 10 classes a week were going remote. The dramatic case counts, combined with a student vaccination rate of around 16 percent, helped staff and parents understand the need for strong safety measures.

Still, some working parents were frustrated by the decision to go all remote. In response, the staff held a parent meeting to explain the crisis. Teachers called families to discuss their concerns and the school held a vaccination event the same week.

Since the school-wide flip to remote, not a single individual class at Nixon has been quarantined. More parents took their kids to get vaccinated and members say there is a peace-of-mind among staff. And, the student vaccination rate is up to 32 percent, with members of the school community continuing to work to raise that number higher. Staff even hosted a party for the safety committee to thank them for their efforts.

Staying the course

Without a mask mandate, many are bracing for an uptick in CPS cases, but most students and staff at Nixon are still masking up.

“Deciding to take a stand for safety wasn’t easy. We received a lot of pressure and intimidation from the powers above,” the member said. “My advice, if this happens at your school, is don’t give up. There will be attempts to sway the safety committee and make you question your decision. Stay strong and stay focused.”