Chicago teachers are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to defy Chicago Public Schools’ orders to return to classrooms amid a spike in city COVID-19 cases.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s governing body — the 600-member House of Delegates — is expected to meet Tuesday. All of the union’s 25,000 members are slated to receive an electronic ballot asking if they support working remotely instead of in person starting Wednesday.
“I am so pissed off that we have to continuously fight for the basic necessities, the basic mitigations,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said Monday at a South Side news conference outside Park Manor Elementary School, where some teachers said they planned to work from home because of safety concerns.
CPS students returned to buildings Monday after a two-week holiday break. District CEO Pedro Martinez told parents in an email Sunday night there are no plans to transition the district to remote learning, though some individual classrooms may need to make the switch temporarily if positive cases are reported.
The end of winter break comes as Chicago is reporting an average of nearly 4,000 daily coronavirus cases, a 42% increase from the prior week, with about 600 kids testing positive a day. Some Chicago aldermen raised concerns about CPS’ reopening plans.
“We have families and staff reaching out with concerns about tomorrow given the high positivity rates in our most vulnerable communities, and vaccination still lagging behind in our communities with respect to other parts of the city,” Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, wrote in an email to Martinez Sunday.
CTU submitted a proposal last week calling for the district to go remote for two weeks while more protocols are put in place. Short of that, the union asked CPS to have students and staff provide a negative test result in order to return to buildings Monday. CTU also wants CPS to set guidelines for when an individual school and the entire district would switch to remote learning and to distribute KF94, KN95 or N95 masks to all staff and students, among other demands.
In his Sunday email, Martinez sought to reassure parents that health and safety procedures such as indoor masking, in-school weekly testing and vaccination offerings will continue into 2022. Here’s a breakdown of CPS coronavirus-related protocols:
“I stand firmly behind the decision to protect our student’s physical and mental health and promote their academic progress by keeping CPS schools safely open for in-person learning,” Martinez said in his letter to parents.
For months, CPS and CTU have been negotiating over a safety agreement for this school year. An agreement reached in early 2021 after tense negotiations led to students returning to campuses in waves during the last school year.
About 330,000 students are enrolled in CPS, the nation’s third-largest school district. Some 51% of district students 12 to 17 years old and nearly 12% of students 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, a CPS spokesperson said. CPS says about 91% of its staff is fully vaccinated.
CPS said it handed out 150,000 at-home test kits for use over winter break to students at 300-plus schools in communities with low vaccination rates. Some parents received emails this weekend that their children’s kits could not be processed.
The date to return the kits was Dec. 28, but CPS extended that deadline to Dec. 30 after photos surfaced of overflowing shipping boxes. Martinez said on Dec. 30 that the district had received 37,000 registered test kits, and there were no issues with packages left near full drop-off boxes.
One CPS teacher said he received an email Saturday that the sample he dropped off Dec. 30 could not be processed.
“Some of the COVID-19 samples collected this week were delayed in transit to the testing lab due to weather and holiday-related shipping issues. As a result, those tests could not be processed within the required 48-hour timeframe between the time the sample is activated and the time the sample arrives at the lab,” the email read.
“When this happens, the test unfortunately cannot be reliably processed and yields an unsatisfactory result.”
A CPS spokesperson on Sunday could not immediately say how many test kits CPS were received, how many students tested positive and how many results were invalid.
CPS maintains an online dashboard that shows positivity rates through its weekly testing program that’s mandatory for unvaccinated staff members and voluntary for students.
CPS is reporting 35,477 tests last week, with 1,919 people testing positive and 24,839 invalid results. It’s unclear how many of the tests were through the at-home initiative.
Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd, asked Martinez in an email Sunday about testing information.
“I also want to know what the plan is for testing, how many in-home COVID tests did CPS get results for and what are the goals and plan to vaccinate as many students as CPS possibly can. I am very concerned about the lack of information around plans for all of these things,” she wrote.
“We are receiving messages from concerned families in our wards and I want to be able to give them information.”
Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th, tweeted Sunday that City Council members continue to press Martinez, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady for solutions and “better decisions.”
“@ChiPubSchools hasn’t done what’s necessary for the return and it’s not okay for us to pretend like they have,” Hadden wrote. “We’re in the highest covid spike yet. The testing and contract tracing systems for CPS were inadequate before the surge and staffing levels are critically low.”
©2022 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.