Teachers Say School is A No Go

16 Jul, 2020

Saying there is no way to reopen schools safely this fall, the Chicago Teachers Union Wednesday evening called for virtual learning to continue in Chicago Public Schools when the new year begins after Labor Day.

“We stand for a safe and equitable reopening of the schools, but today COVID-19 cases are soaring instead of dissipating,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a release Wednesday. “There is simply no way to guarantee safety for in-school learning during an out-of-control pandemic — and that means we must revert to remote learning until the spread of this virus is contained.”

While CPS officials have already committed to measures like mandatory face masks, temperature checks and sanitizing protocols for when schools do reopen, the teachers union has said more needs to be done to reduce the health risks, including safe transportation plans for students and nurses in every school.

But Wednesday, the CTU went further, calling for virtual instruction to continue into the fall. Sharkey noted two big-city school systems in California — Los Angeles and San Diego — have made the decision to continue with remote learning for nearly all instruction this fall. “But whether the mayor and the school board in Chicago will implement these common-sense measures isn’t yet known,” Sharkey said.

CPS leaders have said they’re preparing for different scenarios for the fall — including in-person and remote instruction — but Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that a decision might not come until late August. She said more discussions and input from teachers, parents, students and public health experts are needed.

Later Wednesday, CPS spokesman Michael Passman released a statement saying the district knows families and staff are eager to learn more and that a preliminary framework for fall will be out soon.

“The health and safety of our students and staff is paramount, and our planning for the fall will be guided by the best available data and guidance from state and local health officials. We know that families and staff are eager to learn more about the coming school year, and we appreciate that there are a range of needs and views that are valid and must be considered,” Passman said. “A preliminary framework for the new school year will be introduced this week to gain feedback from students, parents and staff, but a decision on the potential for in-person instruction will not be made until closer to the school year when we can fully assess the public health situation at that time. We are speaking regularly with union leadership as we work to develop the strongest possible plans for the fall, and we will continue to engage a variety of stakeholders to ensure our plans best meet their needs.”

But the union — whose contentious relationship with the mayor was on daily display during last fall’s 11-day teachers strike — contends it’s already too late to contemplate reopening schools without firmer plans in place now.

“School executives have failed to guarantee strategies for social distancing, masks, other PPE, testing, rigorous facilities cleaning and other critical protocols that are essential if schools are to move to in-person learning,” the CTU said in its Wednesday news release. “Both the school district and charter operators have also failed to come up with concrete strategies to protect at-risk educators and students, even as the Union asked again for guarantees for at-risk children and adults in a bargaining session with CPS late Tuesday afternoon.”

The CTU also released a 10-page report Wednesday called “Same Storm, Different Boat,” which addresses its concerns and lays out a framework for what it says would be a safe and equitable way to reopen schools. The paper — which borrows from a similar report by the Los Angeles teachers union — emphasizes the disproportionate effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on people of color, who make up a majority of CPS students.

“The United States is at an unprecedented moment of overlap between a global pandemic, deep economic recession, and an uprising for Black Lives that exposes the structural race and class fissures that have resulted in higher unemployment, exposure, infection, and death rates in Black and Brown low-income communities,” the CTU said in its release. “Plans to restart public education in Chicago must address these deeply linked dynamics of inequity and common good needs.”

Chicago Tribune

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