The years following the March 2020 school shutdowns were the hardest any teacher or student has experienced in recent memory. Students dealt with being isolated from friends and support networks, being unable to communicate in person with their teachers, and contending with the stresses that COVID caused in their families, including work shutdowns, illness or, in some cases, death. Teachers, clinicians, and paraprofessionals faced similar issues. They also had to devise new ways to relate to their students and coworkers, to teach on a computer, to help students who were grief stricken or hungry or were working because their parents were not.
The problems that COVID has exposed have been with us for years. Economically disadvantaged families don’t have working computers or high-speed internet. Schools do not have sufficient numbers of nurses, social workers, or substitutes. Class sizes are too large. Families struggle to access vaccines. Schools are not cleaned properly and HVAC systems in many schools are ancient. At the same time, our majority non-white students live in neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of disinvestment and civic neglect.
We work our way to equity for our students and families by squarely confronting the inequity that the district perpetuates and pushing for policies and practices that reverse these inequities and at last fully fund and support the schools our students deserve.
While this list is hardly inclusive, CPS students and staff need:
- Smaller class sizes that allow educators to provide every student with individual support.
- Recruitment and retention of Black, Indigenous and Latinx educators, particularly Black teachers.
- Elimination of Student-Based Budgeting.
- Fulfillment of 2019 CTU contract — including a full-time nurse and social worker in every school.
- Plan for disbursement of federal COVID relief funds that should include an increase in Sustainable Community Schools, especially within communities on the South and West sides that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
- Immediate plan to address teacher shortages and early exodus of teachers from the profession.
- Extensive restructuring of special education services throughout CPS in order to best meet the needs of students.
- Librarians and technology coordinators in every school, along with translators, athletics, music, the arts, restorative justice, trauma supports and all of the robust services that characterize sustainable community schools.
We have the capacity to address inequity in our schools. What we have lacked for years is a partner — a committed professional in the mayor’s office who is prepared to put student needs ahead of political imperatives and the endless bureaucratic tendency to kick the can down the road instead of addressing challenges today.
We know the path forward to creating the schools our students deserve, built on solid research and proven strategies. It is time to face the future head on and muster the political backbone to do not what is politically expedient, but what is right for the children of this city.