Chicago Schools Move Forward With Reopening Despite Teachers Union

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Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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After several delays, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have entered the first phase of reopening Monday to the consternation of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), according to Fox News.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union cited coronavirus safety concerns, and a lack of equity for students of color, Fox News reported. Earlier, at least 33 of 50 aldermen authored and signed a letter to Chicago schools chief Janice Jackson and Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, according to Fox News.

The “current plan for students and staff to return to school buildings does not meet the district’s objective of increasing equity for students, and fails to adequately address a number of safety concerns identified by parents, students and staff in light of the ongoing pandemic,” the letter to Lightfoot and Jackson reads, Fox News reported. (RELATED: Teachers Union Leader Encourages Other Teachers To Refuse In-Person Learning, Posts Pictures In Puerto Rico Same Day)

The aldermen cited a CPS survey that said white families were two times more likely to send their children back to school than black or Latino families, according to Fox News. The teachers union used this survey result to say white students will benefit more from reopening, and the quality of distance learning for predominantly minority students would suffer, Fox News reported.

The survey also showed less than one fourth of families would choose in-person learning if available, as reported by Fox News.

In a Sunday letter, Jackson argued the precautions taken by CPS, including contact tracing and a sanitization regime, made returning to school safe. Jackson also said in-person learning can help minority students that “have fallen behind” because of distance learning, the Chicago-Sun Times reported. “Providing this option is a matter of equity that will have ramifications for years to come,” Jackson wrote, as reported by Fox News.

“In-person learning is not the right choice for every student, but it must be an option for all,” Jackson added.

“The CTU has not identified any area where the district’s plan falls short of public health guidelines and the CTU’s last-minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning,” Emily Bolton, a CPS spokeswoman, told the Chicago Tribune in response to the teachers union’s allegations. “It is the district’s expectation that teachers without an accommodation report to work tomorrow, just as principals, custodial staff, engineers and food service staff have throughout the entirety of the pandemic,” Bolton added.

The CTU hosted a virtual press conference Monday to give educators the opportunity to explain why they would “exercise their contractual and legal rights to a safe workplace” by refusing to show up to school Monday, according to Fox News.

Other educators also addressed the question of equity, Fox News reported. “Our Black and Brown communities have been hit the hardest and they will be ravaged further if we allow for this reopening plan to occur,” Corkery Elementary School teacher Linda Perales said.

Perales said there were also practical reasons as to why in-person learning would not be as effective. Wearing face masks “will make it impossible to teach letter sounds” and socially distanced classrooms will be a hindrance to group learning, just like instruction over Zoom, she said, according to Fox News.

At least 5,800 employees in the Chicago Public School system in preschool and special education programs were slated to return to their brick and mortar schools Monday. The system has granted more than 850 medical leave requests, and are processing another 300, according to the Chicago-Sun Times. Students under the supervision of this group of educators are scheduled to return to school Jan. 11, as reported by Fox News.

K-8 students are scheduled to return to school on Feb. 1, according to Fox News. In order to prepare for this reopening, educators for this group are expected to return to school on Jan. 25, Fox News reported.

Principal Erik Olson of Hamline Elementary School explained the general format of in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic in a video posted by CPS Monday. While each school’s policies will look slightly different, students will generally be put in groups of 15 students or less. Every day, the child will have to answer some basic questions about their health and have their temperatures taken at a specified entrance for the group, according to Fox News. Once inside the classroom, the students will be socially distanced, Olson claimed, according to Fox News.

Olson added that most schools have upgraded their air purification and ventilation systems for their classrooms, as well as installed more sanitation stations throughout the school, Fox News reported.

Bronzeville Classical Elementary Principal Nicole Spicer explained in the video that most students will be on a hybrid schedule that integrates in-person with at home learning, and limits the number of days students commute to school, according to Fox News. Students with special needs will be given the opportunity to learn in-person five days a week, Fox News reported.