October 19, 2020
The unelected school board of Chicago Public Schools and mayor of our city, at every stage of the pandemic, have pushed for reopening and in-person learning despite unsafe conditions in the midst of a global pandemic. On October 15, a record setting day with 4,015 new COVID-19 cases and 53 deaths due the virus, CPS announced its intention to resume in-person learning for Pre-K and Special Education students for the second quarter of the school year, starting November 9.
The Chicago Teachers Union responded to the reopening proposal by stating, “That move defies science and puts thousands of students, family members and educators at risk.” Many agree with CTU and will not put the fate of children’ or anyone else in the hands of the CPS mayor-appointed school board. The CTU has also announced a new contact tracing system they have been forced to take on as public officials have refused to enact such a system. The CTU has cited 25 COVID positive campuses since October 1.
We must look at the realities that students and their families are facing before even thinking about adding lighter fluid to the fire of this unaddressed pandemic by Chicago officials. The concerns that remain for many CPS workers being asked to return are: lack of contract tracing, safety of air flow and filtration in buildings, building cleanliness and the unreliability of enforcing masks and social distancing. CTU has been the fighting force raising these concerns.
On October 2, 2020 CPS lost an arbitration that instead ruled in favor of CTU’s efforts for school clerks, school clerk assistants, and technology coordinators to also work remotely during the pandemic. These workers have not worked remotely since the start of the stay-at-home orders in Illinois. CTU has also shown solidarity with school clerks and administrators by coming out with a statement that they will defend them against any retaliation from CPS, such as disciplinary actions, pay docking or forcing them to use paid vacation days. The solidarity statement ended with the important note, “As always, our ability to enforce and defend our rights depends on our collective effort to all do so standing together.“ CPS has dismissed many of the findings from the ruling itself which cited many of the school buildings as unsafe.
As a militant journalist for Liberation News, and a socialist and mother, I spoke with Chicagoans that had something to say about potential reopening of schools on November 9.
Linda Perales, CTU member and special education teacher in Little Village, stated, “They are saying the city’s positivity rate is 5 percent so that is acceptable, but in Little Village, where I live and work the positivity rate is 15 pervent and that’s the case for many Black and Brown communities in our city because they have been ignored by Lori Lightfoot. So Lori, stop playing with the lives of my students, with my life, with the lives of our community. We need remote learning until it is safe!”
Monica Esponoze, Logan Square Neighborhood Association member, mother of students in Pre-K, 2nd grade and a college student spoke to the loss of parents, teachers, and grandparents, “I plan to keep my kids remote until Chicago gets COVID under control and funds our schools. Our kids are worth it, our lives are worth it.There are a lot of people that care about this. We are ready to do something about this and we are not going down without a fight!”
Jazmin Cerda, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and mother of a kindergartner shared: “Right now in Brighton Park, we have a 17.3 percent infectious rate of COVID-19. Many of the families in the community have been exposed to COVID-19 because they are essential workers and the risk is extremely high. Opening the schools increases that risk. It has been said that small children don’t get extremely sick from the virus but they transmit the disease. CPS, have you thought about who takes care of those Children? …Right now CPS should focus on giving more support to teachers and principles. They should give enough resources to the parents and students during this pandemic. Those parents that struggle with care during e-learning, should be getting more support from CPS.”
I myself am a Murphy Elementary mother of a Pre-K student, and know we cannot sit idly by while the youngest and special education students are sent as essentially sacrifices for a new ‘normal’ that sounds a lot like the old normal of under-serving Black and Latino. CPS’s under-serving of our communities has made this crisis worse at every turn. As working class parents, we also know that we can make a difference by speaking out against what these capitalist officials say is best for our kids. We know what is best for our families.
The reopening plans show no care for workers’ health. Parents, educators, and communities actually are the ones that know best for our children, not the Mayor’s handpicked board. Workers make the schools run, not Lightfoot’s appointed board.
During the October 15 CTU press conference, Kristen Roberts, a veteran ECC teacher stated, “We lost 53 people in the state of Illinois yesterday. We lost them too soon and we see the numbers going up here and all around us and it’s a tragedy. Since schools started in September, I have had multiple students and coworkers that have had to self quarantine because of COVID in their families. We were remote and we were safe, so school continued uninterrupted in that situation. Thank God they are safe today and healthy. What would have happened if we had been in school, is that we would have all been exposed to COVID-19. School would have been interrupted and we would have had to quarantine and we can only wonder if we would have gotten sick or brought that home to our families.”
CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot must listen to the voices of parents and educators. CPS has responded to the resistance to the reopening of schools by sending out a survey to parents on October 16, having already made the decision to reopen. Empty gestures, like these surveys, are a slap in the face because the school board in Chicago is not taking workers’ lives seriously during this pandemic. When you consider the conditions of school building infrastructure and lack of safety measures one only needs to look to the “leadership” of Lightfoot and CPS to know where the blame lies.
The Mayor’s push to reopen schools is doused in language that makes it seem like she is listening, but it is clear to all that she is not. Lightfoot and Jackson are not listening to those that will ultimately be affected by a rushed re-opening. She is not listening to science, educators, parents, students and more who will bear the brunt of her inability to lead with public health as the top priority. We stand with parents, educators, and all CPS workers demanding that we not reopen schools until it is safe!