All three local alderwomen, as well as state Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) and Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26th), co-signed a letter outlining concerns about the planned reopening of Chicago Public Schools on Aug. 30 amid the delta variant-propelled wave of infections.
The district's current plan leaves 23 alderpersons and 26 legislators — including Rep. Lamont Robinson (D-5th) and Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-3rd) — concerned that "many important safety mitigation standards" could be rolled back, potentially "(undermining) the district’s objective of increasing equity for students especially in light of an ever-changing pandemic that is increasingly harming younger age groups."
They recommend that CPS listen and act upon educator and family feedback regarding simultaneous learning; not rollback social distancing, quarantining and contact tracing protocols; increasing outreach to engage unaccounted or presumed-disengaged students; and hiring clinicians, special education teachers and support personnel like paraprofessionals to work with students on the transition back to in-person learning.
The letter was addressed to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the heads of CPD and the Chicago School Board, none of whom had responded to the Tribune's request for comment by Herald press time.
As the Tribune has reported, CPS has set up a remote-learning Virtual Academy for students at-risk of severe COVID-19 complications with capacity for 3,000 students; applications are being considered on a rolling basis, with information at www.cps.edu/academics/virtual-academy.
While the signatories want CPS to keep students more than 3 feet apart, that distance is the district's plan. As reported by WBEZ, the district wants to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in having only unvaccinated close contacts of infected students of staff members (all of whom must be vaccinated by Oct. 15) quarantine should they be exposed to the coronavirus, but the signatories want the whole class to quarantine and go remote for 14 days if there is an active COVID-19 case detected. This is also Chicago Teachers Union's position.
In June, the district officials said tens of thousands of students are being targeted to re-engage with CPS, focusing primarily on the South and West sides, Chalkbeat reported, as part of a $525 million "Moving Forward Together" program on pandemic-related academic and mental health issues.
Millions of dollars in that program is going to hire 850 literacy and math tutors, "a pool" of mentorship and mental health providers and 64 more counselors "prioritized for schools with the greatest need" by two district indices, CPS said.
Last week, Chalkbeat reported that discussions are ongoing between CPS and the CTU, with unionized teachers to return on Aug 30.
"We believe that the current plans for the resumption of full in-person instruction will be improved through greater collaboration with community partners and parents, as well as an updated agreement between CPS and its labor partners based on guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education," the letter signatories wrote.
"Our city’s educators and support staff are on the front lines and know first-hand the challenges that students are facing. They should be a co-equal partner in crafting a reopening plan that is feasible and sustainable to prevent burnout during these challenging times, and ultimately safe to preserve life and well-being of thousands of Chicagoans."