CTU, CPS in Standoff Over COVID Safety; Union Wants More Than ‘Contrition’

Chicago Public Schools students, and their teachers, have been back in the classroom for about three weeks.

According to the CPS website’s COVID tracker, since Aug. 29 — just a day before school started on Aug. 30 — 350 students of the more than 340,000 who attend CPS have had what the district calls “actionable,” meaning confirmed, COVID-19 cases.    

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Not listed on that website is the number of students in quarantine.

The Chicago Teachers Union, however, has been gauging its memberships; according to a CTU email on Tuesday, “the virus has forced nine out of 17 classrooms into quarantine.”

With COVID-19 testing and contact tracing that CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates describes as “chaotic,” it’s hard to tell.

She said the only consistent message she’s hearing is that it’s inconsistent.

“Student A could get tested, student B not tested and they’re in the same school community. We have members who say that they were in line to be tested, but they ran out of supplies and so they couldn’t finish the testing. Or we have members who say ‘I got tested, it was no problem,’” she said.

A CPS parent backed that up. Her daughter one week reported long lines for testing, meaning that students were missing time in the classroom.

The union and district have been in negotiations over COVID-19 precautions, protocols and operations since before school started, and had another meeting Tuesday afternoon, but still have not reached an agreement.

In this case, it’s not just the CTU that has gripes.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot told “Chicago Tonight” Monday she was “disappointed in the way that this has been rolled out.”

READ: Lightfoot ‘Disappointed’ in COVID-19 Testing, Contact Tracing at CPS

But Lightfoot said she is “confident that things will improve” now that there is increased coordination with the Chicago Department of Public Health, led by Dr. Allison Arwady.

“This is not a mystery anymore. We know how to do contact tracing; we know how to do case investigation. And we’ve got to make sure that CPS is using the tools at its disposal to do just that,” Lightfoot said.

That assessment did not sit well with CTU leadership.

“The mayor’s going to have to do more than show contrition. She’s going to have to show leadership. We’re in a pandemic,” Gates said. “We’re in a pandemic that has been very unkind to Black people, that has been very unkind to brown people, working people and poor people. We are a low-income school district. Not being prepared is something you (say) when your homework is missing; not being prepared as a mayor who is in control of a school district during a pandemic is dangerous and deadly.”

Just a bit ago, the CTU held a “speak out” digital event, during which Corliss High School special education teacher Quintella Bounds said one day last week there were only two students in class. They told her their classmates were all in quarantine, yet she had heard nothing about it from the district, and still hasn’t.

CPS did not immediately respond Tuesday afternoon for a request for information about the number of students in quarantine, or to share how negotiations are going from the district’s perspective.

Lightfoot recently named Pedro Martinez as CPS’s new CEO, but he isn’t responsible yet. He is supposed to start sometime before October.

A new executive order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker spells out some of what schools statewide must, and can, do when it comes to quarantining students, per CDC guidance.  

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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