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After two days of classes, one thing is clear: Mayor Lightfoot and CPS had no plan for safety for our schools.

Major concerns are already flooding our inboxes, all over television, and in newspapers and online. With social distancing virtually impossible, students are herded shoulder to shoulder in hallways, and clustering in cafeterias. Buses are being cancelled, or failing to show up to take students home, with a stipend from CPS that won’t cover families’ transportation costs.

Our goal is unchanged: Landing an agreement that provides the enhanced mitigation our school communities need for the maximum amount of safety possible. Cohorting was enhanced mitigation. We don’t have that anymore. Hybrid? Gone. If Delta escalates, schools could be forced to go straight to remote, with little effort from CPS to improve upon virtual learning from last year.

For a mitigation strategy to work, however, we need to employ every available component to keep people safer. Testing needs to be universal or near universal. Instead, the mayor and her CPS team will offer testing to students at fewer than 10 percent of all schools, with no plans for when and where. There is no commitment to focus efforts in neighborhoods with the lowest vaccination rates. There is no comprehensive school-based vaccine plan, including in high schools where every child could be vaccinated.

CPS no longer honoring COVID sick days

CPS has also retreated from last year’s emphasis on encouraging educators to quarantine if they felt sick or were potentially exposed to COVID-19. Our previous agreement created a special benefit day if an educator was required to quarantine. Today, the district unilaterally announced educators now must use their sick day bank when they’re required to quarantine.

Not only does this provide a disincentive to safety, but it’s also unnecessary. The mayor and CPS have a combined $4 billion to spend on pandemic relief measures, and it’s hard to imagine a better and more effective way to do so than continuing the practice of encouraging anyone who is sick to stay home and recover.

Likewise, after several months of insisting that our medically fragile members couldn’t get telework accommodations because there wouldn’t be much telework, today, the mayor’s team reversed course, saying the district is in need of educators who were quarantining or tested positive, but well enough to teach remotely.

Taken together, these proposals betray both the lack of preparedness of the mayor and CPS, and their growing realization that many educators may end up in quarantine that they will be dependent on for remote teaching.

This is preventable. The mayor has to do better.

And our solidarity is the muscle that will push her there.

More kids are being hospitalized by COVID than at any time since the pandemic began, while the mayor’s team is cutting back on safety protocols. CPS seems content to keep us bottled up in interminable bargaining talks, and to keep our students just bottled up.

At Taft High School, for example, there are fewer lunch periods this year than last year. With more than 4,000 students, that inevitably means close quarters at the same time — removing your mask to eat lunch — that you need to be furthest apart. And I refuse to place the responsibility of safety on our students. CPS is controlled by Mayor Lightfoot, who is accountable for all of this.

We need leadership at the bargaining table with all stakeholders to create a real safety plan with layered mitigation.

Thousands of us, including myself, Stacy and Christel, are CPS parents or grandparents, too. We’re right there with other parents who are happy to have their children back in school, but no parent will be happy if their child gets sick. I refuse to accept CPS’ excuses for the shortcomings that we see in our buildings; in fact, we must continue to highlight those issues, along with parents, so show the truth behind the district’s public relations campaign for a “successful” start to the year.

We’re back at the bargaining table today in hopes of reaching an agreement, but our real leverage comes from our willingness to take collective action. At some point, Mayor Lightfoot and CPS will have to address the profound shortcomings of their plan, which are more and more apparent to anyone actually inside of a school building.

If they don’t, or won’t, then we will be ready to take the necessary steps to get them there.