CHICAGO, IL (WLS) — Chicago Public School teachers bundled up from head to toe to teach their students remotely Monday morning.
The teachers reported to school, but refused to step inside- opting instead to teach from outside as many said they still did not feel that it was safe to enter the building.
Teachers at Brentano Math & Science Academy dressed in layers and taught their students remotely outside their Logan Square school building in below freezing temperatures.
“I don’t want to be forced to choose between my job and my health,” said Kristin Roberts, a pre-school teacher at Brentano Math & Science Academy.
The Chicago Teacher’s Union said some of it’s members chose not to return to school buildings Monday morning in defiance of the district’s reopening plans.
The CTU said the district hasn’t taken enough precautions, to keep students and educators safe.
“You also deal with ventilation, you also need to deal with cleaning and sanitation, we have a bad experience in the past Chicago Public Schools, so they have made promises that they haven’t delivered,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.
Pre-kindergarten and some special education teachers returned to school buildings Monday morning ahead of their students, who are slated to start in-person learning next week.
Special-ed teacher Annie Kellogg said it’s unclear how that will play out.
“We’re taking everything day by day depending on what happens today and we’re focusing on our lessons and our plans day to day. We’ve communicated with parents, parents are in support of us,” Kellogg said.
CPS maintains that its planning efforts, coupled with city health guidelines give them confidence that a return is safe.
The district issued a statement and said, in part, “…CTU’s last-minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning.”
“We are working with our health experts and they support our school reopening,” said CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade. “It’s also important to note that families in Chicago who pay for their education are reporting to school in person … families who use public education – they should have that same in-person option because it has been proven to be safe.”
While the teachers union is not barring its members from complying with the district’s plan, it has advised teachers to continue remote teaching until they believe the buildings are safe.
The teachers who went inside Monday made their own individual decision to do so, as the union is not on strike.
Teacher’s said the district has threatened disciplinary action if they choose not to come.
“We were told that we couldn’t stay home, that we would be fired,” Roberts said.
CPS and the city continue to assure the public that the efforts they have taken since planning in March, coupled with city health guidelines, gives them confidence students and staff can return safely.
CPS issued a statement in response to the union that read:
“The overwhelming scientific evidence, expert guidance and experiences of school districts across Illinois are clear: schools can safely reopen with a comprehensive plan in place. 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. 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.”
The district claims the return to in-person learning will help alleviate the educational disparities seen in the city’s Black and brown communities.
“If you want to talk about equity, let’s talk about staffing our buildings appropriately,” Torres said. “Let’s talk about meeting the needs of kids where they are and not creating an expectation that is unrealistic.”
CTU is also getting the support of 33 Aldermen who penned a letter to the district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, urging both sides to come up with a collective transparent plan.
“We need to spend a lot more time doing in the coming days and weeks, is improving that reopening plan so that it builds more confidence, it builds more trust and CPS and the families and teacher that servicing,” said Alderman Matt Martin, 47th Ward. “We need to make sure we are addressing public safety concerns, public health concerns specifically in ways so that people can understand, but also situating it within this equity framework because if we’re just having a small portion of our CPS population comfortable within in-person learning there’s a lot more work to.”
CPS did issue a response back to the Aldermen address on each point of concern from safety protocols to the communication with the union.
“While there was uncertainty about the safety of schools when we knew far less about COVID-19, these positive health outcomes are no longer a surprise. Data from schools throughout Illinois, across the country and around the world confirm what is now the scientific consensus: schools are safe when proper mitigations are followed,” the response said in part.
Last month, a group of 17 Chicago area doctors signed an open letter in support of the district’s plan, saying in part, “The educational, psychological and financial hardships of remote learning have had serious consequences for our children and their families,” and added that, “in-school spread of COVID-19 is rare when proper precautions are taken.”
The school district said 83.3% of all employees are expected to return on Jan. 4 for in-person learning. Leave or accommodation to remain remote was granted for 12.35 of CPS employees. Additionally, 4.4% of requests for leave or accommodations to remain remote are still pending.
CPS said that every person with an American with Disabilities Act accommodation, which applied to any employee with an underlying health condition listed on the CDC’s website, was granted an accommodation to work from home. A total of 18.7% of employees who live with someone who has a serious medical condition were given accommodations to work from home, and 11.5% of those requesting to remain at home due to childcare accommodations had their requests granted.
The school district also said any staff member who shares a home with someone with a high-risk medical condition but was not given an accommodation to work from home will be able to get a weekly COVID-19 test.
Additionally, all school staff returning in-person will be given monthly COVID-19 tests as part of the district’s testing program.
The district only expects about 37% of eligible students to return to in-person classes, officials said earlier in December.
CPS data shows a disproportionate number of students expected to return are white. About 23% are white, 30% are Black, nearly 39% are Latino and about 4% are Asian. Overall student enrollment in the district is nearly 11% white, about 36% Black, nearly 47% Latino and about 4% Asian, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Schools CEO Janice Jackson said about 77,000 of the roughly 208,000 eligible students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade and in special education planned to return. A date for high school students hasn’t been set.
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