Finally, Chicago has a plan to reopen schools

It’s up to CPS and CTU to make sure the plan is implemented fully. Parents and students are counting on it.

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A teacher and a student walk across a classroom at Jordan Community Elementary School in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Friday morning, Jan. 15, 2021.

A teacher and a student walk across a classroom at Jordan Community Elementary School in Rogers Park on Jan. 15. Preschoolers and special education students go back to school Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

On Thursday, thousands of preschoolers and special needs students will head back to their classrooms once again, no doubt with sighs of relief from their parents.

Beginning March 1, some 67,000 elementary students will return to classrooms too, for the first time since last spring when the pandemic forced schools across Illinois to shut down.

Their parents, too, will no doubt be relieved. For so many families, remote learning simply hasn’t worked — and they have been counting on teachers and the district to come to an agreement on a safe reopening.

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Finally, after months of a stalemate that threatened to become a second teachers’ strike in two years, the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools have that agreement. Now it’s up to both sides to make sure the plan is implemented fully, crossing every “t” and dotting every “i,” to make schools as safe as possible.

Other districts have shown it can done. Chicago can do it as well.

Not just for those parents who have already decided to have their children return to the classroom. A safe reopening is also necessary for the sake of other families — 59% according to CPS data — who have opted to continue with remote learning due to health and safety concerns.

Those parents, we think, undoubtedly want their children back in school, too. They’ve spent months juggling work demands and remote learning, like parents everywhere, all the while worrying about the impact of continued social isolation on their children’s mental health.

They need to see a safe reopening, before they take the risk.

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In the final agreement, the union got a number of concessions from the district — including a fast track on vaccinations for school workers, a testing plan, health committees at hundreds of schools and a delay on students returning until March. Teachers will begin returning on Feb. 22.

Even so, CTU President Jesse Sharkey didn’t waste time throwing down the gauntlet for another fight down the road. He called the agreement “not what any of us deserve” — 68% of members voted for it — blasted Mayor Lori Lightfoot and said it was “a disgrace” that the district couldn’t delay a reopening so it could ramp up with vaccinations and preparing schools.

Enough with the fighting rhetoric. Better to listen to what a group of Black and Latino families, advocates for reopening schools, said in a letter to CPS and CTU:

“So many relationships have been damaged through this strife,” the parents wrote, “and we look forward to being active participants in healing and moving us all forward in unity, for our children.”

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