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We only heard talking points yesterday when new CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Dr. Alison Arwady spoke to the press. That includes mischaracterizations of our positions, half-truths about safety and deceptive statistics.

For example, CEO Martinez and Dr. Arwady claimed that there is little COVID-19 spread in our schools. That’s a peculiar claim given the 1,500 positive cases and 15,000 students in quarantine we see five weeks into our school year. Dr. Arwady also claimed that only 1.4 percent of quarantined students have tested positive for COVID. CPS, however, has only received permission to test 5 percent of students.

CEO Martinez needs to familiarize himself with our actual proposals. Like any member of the public, he can go to ctulocal1.org/chart and download an up-to-date listing of our positions and the district’s responses to more than 50 concrete proposals that we have brought to the table. A new version was revised and uploaded Thursday afternoon.

The new CEO may be unclear on the situation, but educators remain clear about what’s going on and what we need for safe schools.

Five critical issues

We have continually stressed five key issues at bargaining, without which we can have no confidence that our schools will be run safely:

  1. Student and staff COVID testing once a week
  2. Contact tracing within 48 hours
  3. Vaccination programs at a minimum of 100 schools per week
  4. Adequate staffing — especially nurses, social workers and substitute teachers
  5. Metrics for safety

COVID testing

CEO Martinez claimed yesterday that COVID testing will be available in every school by today. Forgive us if we’re skeptical, given their track record.

Only one in 20 students now participate in testing because of the anemic effort of CPS in getting parent permission to test. We have proposed repeatedly that CPS adopt the successful opt-out strategy used in Los Angeles, Newark, NJ and even here in Chicago by the Acero charter network, with whom we landed a safety agreement. About 80 percent of Acero students are participating in the testing program.

Even given the “opt in” method CPS has adopted, the rate of student inclusion is shocking. Getting permission forms signed is a standard routine in schools: field trips, photos, lunch programs all require them, for example. How is it possible that they have only gotten five percent at the end of five weeks? At this rate, it would take five years to reach the 80 percent participation already achieved at Acero schools.

Vaccination

For many months we’ve pushed for a comprehensive vaccination plan. We’re glad CPS is moving forward with consent-by-phone technology to help vaccinate eligible students. But it takes more than a piece of technology to get kids vaccinated. We need outcomes. To achieve widespread vaccination, CPS will need to commit resources to outreach.

We have proposed a number of needed measures: paid opportunities for staff to do phone banking to reach parents, vaccination events outside of schools during student dropoff and pickup and organized door knocking. We can prevent deaths like those of two Jensen mothers last week, but only if we get shots in the arms of students and their family members. That takes one-on-one conversation, not just tech fixes.

Contact tracing

Communication from CPS about positive cases has been uneven, unclear and untimely. Dr. Arwady says there are reasons not to call families, even those who are positive. That doesn’t reassure affected families, and it doesn’t build trust. It is good that CPS finally doubled its number of contact tracers to 60. It appears our constant appeals on this issue have borne some fruit. But we still don’t have the clear, accurate and timely communication necessary. CPS still hasn’t met the 48-hour window for contact tracing communications with families.

Staffing

Yesterday’s talks included no proposals or information on staffing. We know that there are some 1,000 substitute teacher vacancies. Last school year, we had measures in place around staffing. This fall, CPS threw them out the window. We will continue to push for the staffing our students and schools need.

Metrics

In the face of two parent deaths, the student and teacher commitment at Jensen Elementary is nothing short of heroic. But this begs the question, how many cases does it take? How many deaths does it take before CPS takes emergency action to shut down in-person attendance and carry out a deep cleaning? We need answers and solid numbers, not just for individual schools, but for zip codes or the city. What will happen if cold weather brings another surge like it did last year? CPS needs to agree to some specific, reasonable metrics for emergency action.

Our Next Steps

This coming Wednesday, our House of Delegates will convene for its monthly meeting. We have a resolution proposing specific actions across the city to up the pressure on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to finally get serious at bargaining. Members will need to take united action. Discuss with your delegate what steps you think are next, and how far you are willing to go for safety. Stay informed about safety bargaining. Keep your eyes peeled for email updates. Check ctulocal1.org regularly and familiarize yourself with the issues at ctulocal1.org/chart.

Together, we will win the safety that educators, our students and their families need.