Neighborhoods among those most disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 since pandemic began are experiencing double digit positivity rates that continue to rise.

CHICAGO, September 28, 2020—Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey issued the following statement today in response to word that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will expand reopening of bars, fitness centers and other businesses:

Now that Mayor Lightfoot has moved to reopen bars and relax restrictions on fitness and personal care, Chicago Public Schools must work with our union to improve remote learning. Parents, students and educators throughout the city are struggling with an in-person school day overlaid onto a virtual learning model, which is unsustainable and inhumane. In a district that is overwhelmingly Black and Brown children, we cannot choose economics over empathy, effectively telling these students and their educators that they don’t matter.

As we explained in a letter to the mayor today prior to her press conference, Chicago public school educators want nothing more than to
be in classrooms with their students, but it is imperative we remember two things in planning for the remainder of the year: 1) remote learning is a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken more than 200,000 lives in the U.S., and 2) remote learning can be vastly improved through collaboration and cooperation between our union, our members and CPS.

CPS parents play a major role—some of whom are also teachers at home leading online classes while helping their own children navigate the struggles of remote learning.

When parents and educators pushed CPS and the mayor to make the first quarter of the year fully remote, they did so based upon the criteria that fully remote learning was the only safe option when Chicago was averaging more than 200 COVID cases per day. The current rolling seven-day average puts Chicago at 299 new cases per day, and there are numerous Chicago zip codes, especially in vulnerable Black and Brown communities with high student populations, with double-digit positivity rates. The positivity rate is 14 percent in Chicago Lawn and West Lawn, 14 percent in South Chicago and the East Side and 14 percent in North Lawndale. These are the among the same communities that have already experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-related deaths and associated trauma.

We share the district’s concern about maintaining student enrollment. But a return to in-person learning before it can be done safely, along with timing that will coincide with a potential fall surge in COVID-19 infections currently predicted by public health experts, could be catastrophic for Chicago and its most vulnerable populations. If schools become additional vectors for an anticipated fall-winter COVID-19 spike, the damage to CPS and negative impact on enrollment could be far worse than any experienced during remote learning.

While it remains unsafe for in-person learning to resume, we must work together to improve the remote learning experience for students and parents. We must look closer at the criteria that has served fewer than half of the 100,000 families targeted for broadband Internet access. Parents should not have to walk to their child’s school parking lot just to log onto a device, and to that end, the devices must be operational.

We cannot prioritize bars and restaurants over Black and Brown children and our city’s most vulnerable students, including special education students and English language learners. Increased socialization could cause a sharper spike, which would make it more difficult to reopen school buildings. If the mayor feels confident in the numbers, then she and her CPS team must work with our union to create a remote learning plan that takes best practices into full account and is humane, sustainable and instills confidence in the educators, parents and students of this city.

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