We were at our wits’ end after yesterday’s bargaining session, where all we heard, all afternoon, was “we’ll get back to you on that.”
Why doesn’t the online Chicago Public Schools COVID tracker reflect the actual number of cases in our schools? We’ll get back to you.
Why do quarantine policies and procedures vary by school? No answer.
What is the remote learning guidance for special education students in quarantine? Or for Related Service Providers? We’ll have to get back to you.
Fortunately, education reporters are providing the transparency that’s missing in communication from Mayor Lightfoot and her CPS team. According to a report from WBEZ, nearly 3,000 CPS students and staff have been identified as a close contact of someone who had COVID-19 in schools, with 161 positive cases between August 29 and Sept. 8. This is based on the district’s own data, although the manner in which it is presented has been confusing for both parents and our members.
Frankly, we left yesterday’s session wondering who, if anyone, is leading CPS, and why the mayor isn’t empowering her bargaining team to actually negotiate a safety agreement with us. We know it can be done. We’ve landed agreements with charter operators that enact the very same safety protocols the mayor’s CPS team wants to roll back.
Of course, we know who is in charge. Mayor Lightfoot runs the school district. She is ultimately responsible for the tenor at the bargaining table. She is responsible for the deplorable lack of transparency and misinformation. And she is responsible for the frightening lack of safety and the numerous COVID outbreaks in schools across the city.
Yesterday, we confronted the CPS team with evidence of COVID cases reported by our members and parents, and the inconsistency with what the CPS COVID dashboard reports. For example, last week, a student tested positive at Taft and was found to have 102 close contacts who may need to quarantine. But the CPS website says there were zero close contacts.
This scenario is being repeated at schools across the city.
In response, district officials casually admitted that the CPS online material is, in fact, not up to date. But they can’t explain why.
They’ll get back to us on that one, too.
So now educators and the parents and families who rely on CPS for honest, timely information about safety conditions in their schools are left wondering: Is it a nefarious attempt to mislead the public and the press, or an honest mistake?
The lack of transparency and inability to tell the truth has grave consequences for the safety of our members, parents and families. But we are not just fighting to protect the people in our buildings. We want layered mitigation in our schools because it will help stem community spread and rid the city of this deadly virus.
We need an honest partner at the table, empowered to reach an agreement with us on a full range of outstanding safety issues. We need a commitment to a robust COVID testing program. CPS told us today that it offered testing this week at 14 schools, which is not nearly enough to identify potential outbreaks before they take hold. We need blitzes to advertise and promote vaccinations to all eligible students in every school. And we need consistent, system wide metrics to trigger school, and, potentially, district-wide shutdowns.
The bottom line is, “we’ll get back to you” isn’t good enough during a global pandemic, when people, especially in our hardest hit Black and Brown communities, are still falling ill, suffering and dying.
The mayor doesn’t seem to get this, or doesn’t want to get it. Her motivation, however, isn’t our concern. We just need to keep doing what we do best: advocate for our students, stand together in unity with our colleagues and our Union, and, if necessary, be prepared to escalate our actions to demand the safety our families and school communities deserve.