Mayor’s ‘budget-neutral’ plan for desperately under-resourced school communities lacks adequate safety protections as COVID-19 pandemic grows.

CHICAGO, July 24Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey issued the following statement today in response to politically modified CDC guidelines that align with Trump’s reelection efforts:

We confront a terrifying reality: COVID-19 cases are surging across the nation, while Trump has successfully bullied the CDC to revise its ‘guidelines’ and risk the lives of students, their families and their educators by forcing in-person learning this fall. At the same time, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has re-imposed stringent regulations on bars, restaurants and fitness clubs to try to tamp down Chicago’s own increase in COVID-19 cases.

Yet Lightfoot and her hand-picked board of education are committed to putting students and their educators back in schools in barely a month, while CPS’ charter operators are planning to reopen in less than two weeks.

This is both dangerous and profoundly inequitable for South and West side neighborhoods, where cases are rising again and which are already bearing the brunt of mortality and morbidity from the pandemic.

We’ve lived for generations under a system of white supremacy that has devalued the lives of Black and Brown people, including our students. Our Black and Latinx neighborhoods contain a disproportionate number of frontline workers at greater risk of COVID-19, from bus drivers and nursing assistants to grocery store clerks and janitors. Insisting that these families send their students into classrooms that intensify the risk of virus transmission as the pandemic spikes is not just risky. It’s morally reprehensible.

Workers in our students’ families need protections—including a guaranteed basic income that allows them to stay at home with their children during remote learning—and CPS supports to make remote learning a rich experience for students. Rather than trying to force educators and families to choose between in-class teaching or their lives, CPS should be partnering with both families and educators to create the best remote learning experience possible for our schoolchildren, with guaranteed free broadband and up-to-date devices for every student.

Yet instead of advocating for continued federal unemployment supports, which expire in a week, the mayor is seeking to send students into high-risk classroom environments that will inevitably lead to more illness and death, because the spread of this virus remains out of control. Meanwhile, real estate interests are poised to initiate a raft of evictions and foreclosures that will literally put thousands of our families on the streets.

Our own rank and file members deserve and demand protections—including the right to teach without putting our lives or the lives of our students and their families on the line. We demand to be allowed to educate and support our students remotely until this pandemic has been brought under control.

The mayor must step up to protect children and adults from this deadly disease. Our neighborhoods have been ravaged by COVID-19. It’s the mayor’s job to protect our rank and file educators and the students and families we serve from any additional harm—including by moving to remote learning this fall for our students. COVID-19 has already cost the lives of over 140,000 Americans, and we must prioritize the safety of our schoolchildren and the adults who care for them. Anything less than that is both deadly and dead wrong.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.