More than six out of 10 Chicago voters support a plan for schools to continue with remote learning and transition to in-person learning with a phased approach, with re-opening dependent on CPS meeting specific city-wide health metrics.
CHICAGO, Dec. 9, 2020—More than two-thirds of Chicagoans say the city’s public schools should not be re-opened until community spread of COVID-19 is under control, according to a recent survey of likely voters. Barely a quarter of those surveyed — 26 percent — support Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to return to in-person learning in January.
The results are even higher for Chicago’s Black and Latinx families, who’ve suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 infection and death, and sweeping educational inequities that plagued Chicago Public Schools for years before the pandemic shuttered schools last March. Sixty-eight percent of voters agree with the statement, “Chicago schools should not be re-opened until the spread of the virus is controlled,” including 57 percent of voters who strongly agree. Just 26 percent of voters disagree.
A majority of Black (75 percent), Latinx (85 percent) and white (55 percent) respondents, as well as 73 percent of voters who identify as Chicago Public Schools parents, reject a rush to reopen, according to the polling memo.
“Our families and educators, who are the people with the most skin in the game, want safety, equity and trust in any reopening plan,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “Schools aren’t closed because of our union; schools are closed because of COVID-19, and it’s the lack of trust that people have in CPS that’s keeping them closed.”
CPS is the only large school district in the nation that has failed to bargain to consensus on safety issues with its union employees. Support for the district’s insistence on going it alone in creating reopening plans continues to falter among rank-and-file educators since schools reopened with skeleton crews this fall, as hundreds of cases of COVID-19 began surfacing in more than 160 district-run schools.
This new poll shows that parents, too, have little trust in CPS’ isolationist approach, even as the mayor and her school leaders continue to ignore the concerns of families with the highest stakes in those decisions.
“Why is a city and a school district run by people of color ignoring the voices of families of color?” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “If we’re talking seriously about equity, and ameliorating inequity, then let’s talk about keeping the communities hit hardest by COVID-19 safe and improving remote learning.”
CPS has a long track record of inequity. The district has failed to fully implement or staff bilingual education in a district where Latinx and immigrant children make up nearly half of all students. Most schools still don’t have a nurse, even as the district plans to reopen in less than a month — in a pandemic.
On the West Side, only four out of more than 50 overwhelmingly Black elementary schools have a library. Pleas to ease overcrowding and poor physical conditions in South Side school buildings have fallen on deaf ears for years. As the district promised to hire 400 new custodians to keep schools clean and safe for students, barely a quarter of those hires have been made, despite years of documented complaints of filthy conditions in many buildings.
Concerns about those longstanding inequities are reflected in poll results. Solid majorities of those polled support a plan to continue with remote learning and transition to in-person learning with a phased approach only when schools are able to meet specific city-wide health metrics — like those New York City, which opened schools only when city infection rates were below 3 percent.
When given a choice between a metrics-based plan for re-opening and Mayor Lightfoot’s latest re-opening plan, the former wins out by a margin of 2-to-1, including a solid majority of Black families and 73 percent of Latinx families.
Many of the groups most opposed to the mayor’s re-opening plan are voters of color, according to the poll, which are the same groups that have grown more critical of the mayor’s handling of the office overall the past few weeks.
“You cannot dismiss the pleas of families to make remote learning work better and call that equity,“ said Davis Gates, a mother of three children in Chicago public schools.
The Union’s official governing body, the 600-member House of Delegates, will meet this evening to discuss a set of demands around a safe, trustworthy and equitable school reopening plan.