A group of teachers and parents on Monday held a protest to call for Chicago Public Schools to put in place a remote learning option for families who want to keep kids away from classrooms during the pandemic.
Jim Santoyo said he’d elect to keep his daughter home from John B. Murphy Elementary School in the Irving Park Neighborhood if he could.
“Kids eat in class without masks, do nap time without masks — there’s lots of points of transmission that can happen,” he said, noting that his wife recently found out she was pregnant and he doesn’t want to take any unnecessary chances.
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“There’s no doubt in my mind that a remote option would be the safest thing for us right now,” Santoyo said.
He was one of about 40 people who gathered at a park in Logan Square for a protest organized by the Chicago Teachers Union before attempting to march several blocks to voice their displeasure outside the home of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
More than two dozen police officers blocked their path as they approached Lightfoot’s home.
Protesters also called for increased COVID-19 safety precautions.
Nora Flanagan, a teacher at North Side College Prep who has two kids in CPS schools, said school administrators and staff members are doing their best but aren’t given the resources they need.
“I want school to work, but right now it’s chaos,” she said. She said the team of contact tracers working for CPS is badly understaff, leaving school administrators stepping in to act as “bootleg contact tracers.”
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said additional contact tracers are being hired and other staff are being diverted to support the effort.
“The district’s contract tracing operation is working around the clock to support schools and help families navigate instances of exposure to COVID-19,” Bolton said. “As part of our processes, we have given principals the authority to flip classes to remote learning while a full case investigation is being completed by the CPS Contact Tracing Team as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a timely manner.”
Flanagan also said CPS’ plan to deal with the sort of COVID scare she had over the weekend is lacking.
On Sunday she learned she may have been exposed to a student who tested positive for COVID-19.
“It left me scrambling and terrified on a Sunday afternoon trying to find an expensive rapid antigen test,” she said, noting that had a plan been in place she wouldn’t have had to waste time looking for a test.
Students returned to full classroom Aug. 30 for the first time in more than 17 months.
Just eight days into the new school year, CPS officials identified nearly 3,000 students who had been exposed to COVID-19 at their schools.
Only students who are unvaccinated are required to stay home for the usual 14-day period this year.