Reed is one of some 10,000 CPS employees who would be forced to return to school if the district goes through with its plan to reopen kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms, but for weeks the Chicago Teachers Union has been fighting to make sure that didn’t happen unless the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods received the resources they need to protect students and teachers.
While pre-K and special education students returned to classrooms earlier this month, more than 70 percent of Chicago Public School teachers voted on Saturday against the decision to continue reopening plans. “As lock-outs continue, CPS has yet to vaccinate 1,500 health care professionals eligible for vaccine in December, as mayor’s hand-picked school board still insists on forcing 10,000 more unvaccinated educators to teach in-person by Feb. 1,” the union said in a news release.
Reed’s wife is seven months pregnant, but the district denied his request to work from home, the web media site We Are Teachers reported. He told ABC-affiliated news station WLS that it’s not that teachers don’t want to return to classrooms. “We do; we want to see our kids, we want to hug them, we want to be able to do all this,” he said. “We just want to do it the safest way possible.”
The Chicago Teachers Union has had nearly 70 meetings with Chicago Public Schools officials since June in an attempt to come together on a plan to reopen schools safely. The district announced Tuesday that students wouldn’t be returning to classrooms Wednesday, and it pushed back reopening the next day too, resting blame definitively on the shoulders of teachers. “For the past three weeks, thousands of CPS students have been safely learning in person, and the union’s action will prevent these students from receiving the classroom support their parents needed and chose,” CPS said in a statement NBC Chicago obtained. “While we are greatly concerned for our youngest and highest-need students, who are suddenly without a safe, in-person learning option, we are continuing to make all possible efforts to reach an agreement that addresses the union’s priorities and provides families a much-needed resolution.”
Parents are frustrated, with some pushing the district to do more to protect students and others simply wanting their children back in classrooms. “I will not be sending my children back to school because it’s simple we can’t trust CPS,” parent Rosemary Vega told NBC Chicago. Sherryl Reiss told the news station her daughter, who returned to school earlier this month, has autism and has been excelling since schools reopened for special education students. “I need my child to be in school, Reiss told NBC Chicago. “I’ve done everything I can. It breaks my heart when she wants to go and I can’t let her go because the union says it’s not safe.”
To be fair, reopening schools is not safe in many neighborhoods throughout the city. “Only 19 percent of eligible pre-K and special education cluster students returned to classrooms on January 11. The vast majority of the district’s overwhelmingly Black and Brown families have instead stuck with remote learning, as the virus continues to hammer their neighborhoods and they struggle to access vaccinations,” the union said in another press release.
Union officials added in the release:
“COVID cases have surfaced in more than 60 schools since CPS started forcing the latest wave of educators back into buildings on January 4. Yet CPS has rejected adopting the CDC’s health metrics to determine if schools should be open or remain remote. The District has refused to allow educators to be vaccinated before they’re pushed back into classrooms, and turned down or ignored thousands of requests from educators for health accommodations for themselves or household members with hypertension, heart disease and other health conditions that put them at higher risk of COVID sickness and death.”