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When everything else is open, what do closed schools tell children about the value of education?

I don’t want the malls, restaurants or bars to close. But when I was a kid, my parents told me: School comes first. Chicago, that should be the rule here.

Eusebio and fifth grade student Kimberly Delgado walk outside Sayre Language Academy on Jan. 5 to pick up a laptop to use for remote classes.
Eusebio and fifth grade student Kimberly Delgado walk outside Sayre Language Academy on Jan. 5 to pick up a laptop to use for remote classes.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

On Friday, 20,000-plus vaccinated and masked screaming Chicago Bulls fans descended upon the United Center. Dozens of neighborhoods were represented under one roof. Folks from the suburbs and beyond chartered buses or braved the traffic just for a chance to cheer on the first-place Bulls. Thousands of hotdogs were consumed. Overpriced beer was unfortunately spilled. Memories were made. Just like old times… kind of.

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Also on Friday, some 290,000 Chicago Public Schools children were denied their education for the third day in a row. If they watched the game, they saw unmasked athletes, screaming fans, cheerleaders and maybe, just maybe, if they looked closely into the crowd, they might have seen their teachers.

Before I get a thousand letters from teachers telling me they were in fact not at the game, let me explain: Like us, our children just experienced a holiday break. They went to parties, saw family, went to malls and restaurants, probably saw the new Spider-Man movie. It wasn’t quite like years past, but it was close. Some folks got sick with COVID and had to quarantine, like I did, but most didn’t. The holidays were spent with friends and family, as they should be. A huge improvement from last year.

However, two days after returning from break, all of a sudden, the children are told that things are no longer safe? Yet, the malls, movie theaters, restaurants and bars are still open. And, of course, 20,000+ gathered under one roof Friday night at the United Center.

I am a teacher and a parent of three of the neglected students. I wonder this: If we are so concerned for the health and safety of our students and families, then why are we not willing to boycott those places of business first? Close the malls and movie theaters. Close the restaurants and bars. Protest the Bulls game. Block the entrances. Where is our enthusiasm for boycotting these activities? Our students and families (and ourselves, if we are honest) are all out and about doing these things. Where is the outrage?

When this pandemic started, I supported school closures. It was a scary time. There were so many unknowns, and schools are notorious breeding grounds for viruses. Everything was closed. Heck, the NBA was one of the first organizations to recognize the danger and shut down. It was the right thing to do at the time.

But now? Close schools while everything else is open? What does that tell our children about the value of education?

When our children clicked on the Bulls game Friday night, the message was very clear. This matters. The Bulls, the NBA, the fans matter. The brands advertising on TV matter.

Their education — does not matter.

I don’t want the malls, restaurants or bars to close. Theaters have been through enough. I’m glad Spider-Man made them billions of dollars. I grew up watching the Bulls, and I am excited about their season. However, these are all leisure activities. When I was a kid, my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to engage in leisure activities if I didn’t go to school. My parents had a simple rule: School comes first.

Dear Chicago, I have a simple rule for you. School comes first.

Mike Walsh, veteran teacher and CPS parent

COVID knows no borders

As we enter our third year of COVID, we now know what protects us: vaccines, boosters, face masks and testing. But to finally stop the development of new variants causing disruption, suffering and too many deaths, we need to invest in one more tool in our toolbox: vaccinating the world.

After all, no one is safe from COVID until everyone is safe. The effectiveness of vaccines feels like a modern miracle, but they are useless without robust investments in vaccinationsgetting shots from tarmac to arm.

According to CARE, a humanitarian organization supporting COVID vaccination programs, at a minimum it costs $11 to vaccinate a person — but these costs can balloon to $22 per person in complex regions like South Sudan. Investing in effective delivery doesn’t just mean technology or syringes. Ending this pandemic requires investing in health care workers, vaccine acceptance programs and educational campaigns; strengthening health care infrastructure; and providing PPE to keep health care workers safe.

The Biden administration, alongside our allies, championed an ambitious commitment to vaccinate 70% of the world. This goal requires additional funding now. COVID knows no borders. The time is now to commit to equitable vaccine distribution, lest we continue risking American lives and the American economy with each new variant.

As the wealthiest country in the world we need to push our government to commit to robust funding for worldwide vaccination.

Jill Gordon, Lakeview