She assured the city that it would be provided. Later on, Dr. Jackson noted that the district spent $42 Million on “additional emergency supplies” in addition to investing $70 Million in “building improvements” to ensure the safe return of students. Moreover, Jackson and Lightfoot both emphasized that this was an option, and parents can choose not to send their students back.
However, parents who do wish to send their kids back should have that choice. “To deny parents this option is irresponsible and wrong,” Lightfoot said.
She even mentioned that as a parent of school-aged child, she wanted to provide that in-person option for other parents. Lightfoot’s daughter, Vivian, attends Francis Xavier Warde Catholic School. According to Lightfoot, CPS’s reopening framework was based on analyses of Catholic schools, which opened in August.
In an interview with Chalkbeat Chicago, Justin Lombardo, a senior officer for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told the outlet that Catholic schools had planned the reopening months in advance and consulted with health experts to see what the safest way to reopen was. He also noted that the scope of their planning might look differently than CPS, which serves a much larger student population.
Jackson said that 77,000 families of students were prepared to go back. However, CPS serves 355,156 students, making this 22 percent of the total student population. So, although Jackson and Lightfoot say that schools are prepared to welcome students, there is still pushback from parents and teachers.
Last Friday, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) held a virtual information session about the reopening plans. During the session, they took comments from teachers, nurses, parents, and students with their thoughts on reopening.
Marcie Pedraza, a parent, said, “We don’t trust CPS.”
Her sentiment was likely referring to the fact that teachers who have been in the buildings report unsafe conditions. Last week, when teachers were slated to go back initially, some taught outside in the cold because they did not feel safe entering the buildings.
Additionally, Jhoanna Maldanado, one of the session’s moderators, shared a chat that one teacher had with a filtration company. Through the chat, the employee said the filter put in place was inadequate. Yet, at the press conference, Lightfoot and Jackson boasted about the high-quality air filters they put into every school building.
Moreover, Lightfoot said CPS conducted a “multistage ventilation and air quality assessment” before determining that it was safe to return to schools. The problem with air filtration was one challenge teachers raised concerns about on the call. Another was the workload.
With the reopening plan, teachers are expected to teach simultaneously. This means that they would teach their students in-class and online at the same time. Maldanado noted that this increased workload was infeasible given all the other new and added responsibilities teachers will have.
There was also concern about students who cannot wear masks. Nikeisha Salas, a nurse, mentioned that if a child can’t wear a mask, there can be an accommodation put into place to say that they don’t have to wear one, which increases the risk for the virus spreading.
Given these copious concerns, parents and teachers on the call said they do not feel safe returning or having kids return. Michol Whitney, a preschool teacher, stated, “I have no intention of returning to the classroom.”
When asked about what disciplinary actions the district might take against those who refuse to go back, Lightfoot said, “There’s a process to address those issues.”
They did not say much else about disciplinary actions but instead focused a lot on the kids who are being impacted by virtual learning. Jackson brought up the fact that many of the students in CPS are Black and/or Latinx, and they are falling behind in virtual learning.
On top of these, the same neighborhoods have 20-25% positivity rates, and death rates are really high. One teacher echoed this sentiment.
“I have students every week who miss class to attend a funeral for a family member,” said Lauren Bianchi, teacher at George Washington High School.
“We want students to get a good education, but we also want students to be safe. We have been asking for a plan which will ensure our safety,” Sharkey noted. ~ℝ
Javanna Plummer, Rwebel in Chief
Javanna is the editor of “Rwebel Magazine,” the architect behind “Rwebel Radio,” and the pioneering force of “Xscape.” Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion and forward-thinking.