Aldermen, state lawmakers raise concerns about CPS fall reopening plans in letter to mayor

Ald. Matt Martin and Ald. Maria Hadden speak during a City Council meeting May 26, 2021, at Chicago City Hall.

Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — As Chicago Public Schools students prepare to return to classrooms next week, a group of City Council and General Assembly members say they are “deeply concerned” about the district’s COVID-19 safety plans.

“The delta variant of COVID-19 has demonstrated its stronger transmission among unvaccinated young people, and we are deeply concerned that Chicago Public Schools’ current plan for students and staff to return to school buildings rolls back many important safety mitigation standards that can undermine the district’s objective of increasing equity for students especially in light of an ever-changing pandemic that is increasingly harming younger age groups,” Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th, and Democratic state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas wrote in a letter Sunday to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle and interim CPS CEO José Torres.

Representatives for CPS and Lightfoot did not immediately comment Sunday.

The letter, which was signed by 23 City Council and 26 General Assembly members, urges implementation of many of the proposals the Chicago Teachers Union has put forth. The union and CPS leaders have been negotiating safety protocols as the district plans to welcome students back for in-person learning five days a week starting Aug. 30.

Recommendations from the letter include:

Having teachers and support staff members who are medically unable to return to school buildings fill positions in CPS’ new Virtual Academy for “medically fragile” students.

Keeping unvaccinated students apart more than the standard 3 feet that CPS said should be maintained wherever possible. If a person exhibits symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, all close contacts should be directed to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status. CPS has said fully vaccinated contacts who are asymptomatic should not have to quarantine.

Conducting home visits year-round to engage CPS families to improve attendance.

Hiring more clinicians, special education teachers and support personnel to help students transition back to in-person learning.

Hammering out a fall agreement between CPS and “labor partners.”

“We are deeply concerned by the consistent testimony from educators expressing their profound frustration with the status quo and how it hinders their ability to do their job along with families’ growing demands about ensuring their children’s safety,” the letter states.

“An effective reopening plan is anchored in collaboration with all stakeholders, radical transparency, and clear and regular communication to achieve the collective goals and foster public trust.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a package of legislation that aims to make Illinois a safer and more compassionate state for domestic violence survivors.

The letter comes days after CTU leaders said talks with CPS about safety issues have been slow and frustrating. Some measures have already been decided. Everyone has to wear masks inside school buildings, except when eating and drinking. CPS is also requiring employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Other safety plans are expected to be announced this week.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students and staff. All of the district’s health and safety protocols are in alignment with the health and safety guidelines recommended by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois Department of Public Health and Chicago Department of Public Health), and in some cases go beyond them,” CPS spokesperson James Gherardi said in a statement last week amid criticism from the CTU.

The state is requiring all Illinois schools resume in-person learning this fall, with limited exceptions. Students are returning to classrooms as the highly transmissible delta variant fuels an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Chicago and around the country. Nearly 44% of Chicago kids 12 to 17 years old are fully vaccinated, according to city data from last week. It’s unclear how many of those children are CPS students.

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August 23, 2021 at 06:53AM

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