Chicago Public Schools will welcome students back to the classroom in less than two weeks, as the delta variant of COVID-19 is driving the number of infections up across the city.
The rising case count has put another wedge between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, which says the district is stalling on needed safety guarantees.
“We’re concerned that the mayor and the city are trying to roll back a number of health protections,” said the union’s president Jesse Sharkey. “For example, they want to decrease social distancing, they want to get rid of the metrics that we’d use for a potential shut down if the situation in the schools gets worse.”
Chicago is currently averaging more than 400 new COVID-19 cases per day, prompting the city to announce an indoor mask mandate Tuesday for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. The mandate goes into effect Friday.
That comes as CPS last week mandated that all teachers and school staff be fully vaccinated by October.
But the district says it won’t require eligible students to be vaccinated – at least not yet.
“The first day of school is Monday Aug. 30, and we want all children to come. No test is required, no vaccination is required. We will be provided tests and opportunities for testing beginning that first week,” said interim CPS CEO José Torres on Tuesday.
Sharkey says the bigger issue right now has to do with equitable vaccine access across Chicago’s neighborhoods. The Chicago Teachers Union is pushing CPS to operate more vaccine clinics across the district.
“Mandating something but not having a systematic way to make it happen isn’t any use,” he said. “We’ve been very much asking CPS to set up the plans to deliver vaccines. We’ve been asking for 100 vaccination sites a week to be set up in schools … we’re still not there yet.”