Chicago Mayor at Odds With Parents on in-Person Learning

  • The fight between the Chicago Teachers’ Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot is still ongoing.
  • Classes have been canceled for the fourth day in a row, and schooling in Chicago remains in limbo.
  • Parents told Insider they don’t believe Lightfoot isn’t listening to their concerns about safety.

Chicago public school students stayed home from school for a fourth day Monday as teachers and city officials continued to spar over how to educate children amid a sharp uptick in COVID infections.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have been at odds for days on the best way to teach kids as the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to spread. The Chicago Public Schools system makes up the the third-largest district in the US, home to more than 340,000 students.

The union last week went against Lightfoot’s stance in favor of in-person learning, voting instead to pivot to remote learning. Lightfoot, meanwhile, argues that in-person learning provides better educational benefits for children and less stress on parents who’d otherwise be forced to look after their kids during the daytime.

But with rising cases of the Omicron, teachers don’t feel safe attending classes in person. Neither do some parents who spoke to Insider.

“I don’t think at this point it’s worth the risk,” said JP Paulus, a father of a fifth-grader and high school junior. “I feel like that the district and the mayor did not reach out to parents who are at schools that have this sort of spike in COVID.”

Other parents who’ve spoken to Insider have also expressed a similar sentiment.

“I know they need to be amongst their peers for social development, I understand that,” said Valeisha Manning, a mother of three children who are enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools system. “But there’s no social development that comes to a dead child or a sick child or a child that’s in ICU.”

Lightfoot, ahead of the fight with the teachers’ union, has insisted that schools are safe.

“Our schools are not the source of significant spread. The issue is community spread. But we need to keep our kids in schools, which is what we’re going to do in Chicago,” Lightfoot said during a CNBC interview last week.



Big empty classroom at modern school

Stock Photo/Getty Images

Some parents, however, disagree.

Rachael H., a mother of three kids who attend district schools, said she kept her third-grader home last Monday when schools reopened for in-person learning after the holiday break. That same day, she said, there was a COVID-19 exposure and her child’s 30 other classmates who showed up had to quarantine and learn remotely the next day. On Tuesday, her third-grader showed up to school, and “it was a total of her and one other student in the classroom,” Rachael said.

“But her and another child were in the school,” Rachael said. “And then she told me that she had to have lunch with a whole nother classroom because her teacher had to go out for lunch. So that means she’s being exposed again to another set of students, just for her to have a lunch break.”

Paulus said parents were promised that there would be sufficient cleaning supplies and measures put in place in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But his kids told him that there aren’t any dividers or antibacterial wipes. And like Rachael, he also said his child told him that about half her class was missing during the first two days of school after the winter break. Parents were either afraid of the possibility of an infection or had family members infected with the virus, he said.

An analysis of available data from the Illinois Department of Public Health has found that schools are the biggest source of infection in every part of the state except Chicago, Axios reported.

The Chicago Health Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. But Chicago Health Department spokesperson Andrew Buchanan has indicated that he believes schools aren’t a significant source of spread, according to Axios.

The city has not publicly released its exposure data. But the latest guidance posted on the department’s website mandates that schools report “two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 occurring within 14 calendar days of each other at the facility.”

But in Chicago itself, positive COVID-19 cases are rising, and parents are afraid that city officials like Lightfoot aren’t taking the infection rates seriously. Lightfoot’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment asking about the negotiations and about the parents’ fears of returning to in-person learning.

“I really want the mayor to listen,” Paulus said. “Parents are not really behind heard.”

Paulus said Lightfoot is behaving like the situation is “all or nothing,” when the decision to attend have in-person or remote learning can fall on individual schools and be done on a case-by-case basis.

“She’s not taking into consideration the possibility that individual schools could select an all-remote option and make it work,” he said.

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