by Susan Le Mignot and Charli de Mar
Chicago (CBS) – On Monday, the day Chicago public school children returned to school after winter break, there was a danger that they could go back to distance learning.
Read more: CPS cancels classes on Wednesday after CTU votes to return to remote learning
On Tuesday, CPS chief Pedro Martínez said schools would remain open but classes on Wednesday would be canceled if teachers vote to teach remotely. Martinez said he wants students to be in school and learn in the classroom.
The Chicago Teachers Association is voting Tuesday — asking its members whether they support staying out of class until they think it’s safe to return.
“Unless we do that — draw a line in the snow — they react,” said Chicago Teachers Union vice president Stacey Davis Gates.
Usually, only the House of Representatives decides on such issues. But a CTU spokesman said that since remote learning is such an important decision, all 25,000 members of the rank-and-file are also being asked to weigh it by electronic ballot on Tuesday.
“My question to the mayor and CPS is simple – what will it take to close down a school building when COVID is rampant?” CTU representative Brianna Hambright-Hall said.
There is a school counselor and CTU representative at Hambright-Hall Park Manor Elementary School. The CTU said that during the winter break, there were a large number of COVID-19 cases in the school.
“We are here again for the second time in a week, discussing similar safety concerns and issues concerning our school community,” Hambright-Hall said.
Unions and some parents are demanding increased testing and better masks.
“What will it take to shut down a building where COVID is rampant?” Hamwright-Hall said. “Please listen, Mayor Lightfoot and the CPS team – when is enough?”
Sonja Hammond is a Park Manor primary parent.
“Until these kids are safe, my kids will stay at home on distance learning,” Hammond said. “We need N95 masks. You are sending children to school with positive siblings.”
The House of Delegates will meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, with a vote on returning to remote learning at the earliest on Wednesday. After a meeting of the House of Delegates, an electronic ballot will be issued asking all the teachers the same question.
Read more: Every state and territory in the US is now involved in the Chicago COVID-19 travel advisory
CPS parent Sharon Winkfield said children should learn from afar with the rise in COVID-19 cases. Winkfield also said that distance learning should not mean that student attendance records are affected.
“Why should our families choose between being marked absent and bringing their child to school when this disease is rampant?” Winkfield said. “To tell us to choose between punishment and protection – please. I mean, we love our kids, and we want them to live. We want them to be here. We want that.” They should get a good education, but if they die they can’t do it.”
The CPS parents had the children complete COVID-19 test kits for the students to return to school. Between December 26 and January 1, there were 1,870 students who tested positive for COVID-19.
A total of 35,223 tests were completed. Of those tests, 24,836 were invalid for a variety of reasons, among issues with shipping delays. Eighteen percent tested positive for the virus.
“It’s really unfortunate that the mayor and the CPS administration had poor planning on their part, in which test kits were distributed, analyzed, and some test results came with unsatisfactory samples,” Hambright-Hall said.
In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the pandemic has shown that schools are the safest places for students. She said that with $100 million spent on mitigation and most teachers being vaccinated, very little transmission of the virus is seen in school settings.
Mayor Lightfoot also said in a statement that distance learning is not a “panacea” and comes with its own costs – including “significant learning loss,” “severe hardship on families who had to work and home-school”. The students didn’t have to,” “health trauma resulting from mental isolation,” and other factors.
New: From statement @chicagosmayor
“The best thing we can do for our students, staff, and all of our partners at CPS is to get vaccinated. Keeping children safely in school where they can learn and grow is something we all need to do.” Must be focused.” pic.twitter.com/XWxT3socTH
— Ryan Johnson (@Ryan_Johnson) 3 January 2022
Mayor Lightfoot took no questions from local reporters as he visited a gym implementing the city’s vaccine mandate. But he also said in a national interview that the safest place for students is in the classroom – not e-learning at home.
“We know the learning loss was profound,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “We know there was a huge difference in achievement. We know the mental health and trauma issues our students had were real.”
But parent Taneka Griffin Lindsay fired back: “From one parent to another, how dare you? How dare you use my child’s health and put him in a situation where he is not safe?”
Cities including Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee either opted for online instruction or the return to the classroom was delayed due to Omicron’s concerns and growing staff shortages.
“We think individualized learning is best for our children, but at the same time, their health comes first,” Lindsey said.
CPS spokeswoman Mary Ann Fergus said in a statement what would happen if teachers voted overwhelmingly to work remotely and didn’t come to work on Wednesday:
“CEO (Pedro) Martínez is really hopeful that this will not come to that. CEO Martínez and the CTU leadership are talking today and will continue to talk and work to find a solution.”
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Martinez will speak at City Hall on Tuesday at 11 a.m.