2-4-2021-4-23-40-PM-9319054

Public school showdown looms

CTU hints at strike over ‘unsafe’ conditions

By Tim Hadac

January 29, 2021

An already tense situation grew more so this week, as the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools clashed over most teachers’ scheduled return to in-person learning on Feb. 1.

“Only 19 percent of eligible students (in special education and pre-kindergarten) returned to school buildings on Jan. 11, yet CPS remains adamant about forcing another 10,000 workers back into buildings on Feb. 1 Ñ unvaccinated, with no safety guarantees in their classrooms or their buildings,” union leaders said in a statement Monday. “At the same time, CPS is continuing to lock out pre-K and special education cluster teachers for exercising their right to a safe workplace by continuing to teach remotely.”

In response, CPS officials said, “While a vaccine will ultimately help bring us back to normal, keeping schools closed indefinitely is the worst option for studentsÑespecially our highest need populations. Schools across the world, throughout the country, and here in Chicago have successfully demonstrated that we can safely reopen classrooms with the right safety protocols in place. We have developed a comprehensive health and safety plan with our partners at the Chicago Department of Public Health, to ensure our schools are aligned to the best available public health guidance.

“For example, the Chicago Archdiocese schools have been safely operating since the start of the school year, and CPS is following some of their best practices and going above and beyond what they are currently doing to keep their community safe.”

CTU officials further charged that CPS has “failed to arrange for vaccinations for 1,500 class 1(a) CPS health professionals Ñ school nurses, LPNs, speech pathologists, physical therapists and more Ñ who were eligible to begin being vaccinated in December. While CPS has at last said it will move to vaccinate school staff, perhaps beginning in mid-February, it has refused to allow workers to be vaccinated before they’re forced back into school buildings that have struggled with even the most basic safety needs, from adequate masks and hand sanitizer to ventilation adequate to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Public still split

Opinion remains split among school parents and grandparents, as well as the general publicÑat least among shoppers outside the Jewel-Osco in West Elsdon last weekend.

“Enough already with this crybaby union,” said Jon Schulz. “It’s like no matter what steps the schools take to demonstrate that they’re safe, the union keeps moving the goalpost with their demands. They need to dry their fake tears and get back to school, where they belong.”

Kathy Mankiewicz said that her grandson has been attending Catholic school since September “and everything is going fine. They all wear masks, wash their hands and keep a distance between each other. I know it’s not the Catholic schools’ intention to put the public schools to shame, but that’s what is happening.”

Raul Lezcano said there’s “no way” he will allow his children to return to school until faculty and staff are vaccinated.

“That’s all we needÑfor teachers to start dying and kids to bring home the virus and infect their parents and grandparents,” he said. “A lot of us live in multi-generational households, with grandmas and grandpas who can’t afford to get sick.”

Alicia C‡ceres said that as a public school teaching assistant, she remains “worried that the rosy picture that CPS paints about school safety is simply untrue. I’ve heard stories from [other CPS teachers] about how the air filters don’t work or aren’t even installed. The public schools have a long history of failing to protect teachers and students. I think Mayor Lightfoot and CPS need to do a better job of proving that schools are safe.”

Claudia Ugarte said she doesn’t know “who’s right or wrong in this argument. I just wish they’d get this vaccination thing done soon. It’s taking too long. What’s the hold up?”

(Editor’s Note: More news coverage and photos in the print edition of the Greater Southwest News-Herald, available on local newsstands. Or better yet, call 708-496-0265 during weekday business hours and order convenient home delivery for about 50 cents a week.)

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