A new school year is mere days away, and the good news is the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union seem unlikely to have any last-minute labor strife over COVID-19 safety protocols, or anything else, that could throw things into chaos.
CTU delegates next week will vote on safety measures that include rules on testing, masking and quarantining to stem any spread of COVID-19. Most importantly, in our view, that plan includes continued efforts by the district to encourage vaccination.
Too many students, especially Black students, remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, as a story by WBEZ’s Sarah Karp makes clear.
It’s worth pointing out once again, because health, and potentially lives, are at stake: In communities of color that have been hardest hit by severe illness and death during the pandemic, vaccination rates remain low. Yet getting the vaccine is absolutely critical to keep the virus at bay.
Yes, COVID seems to be receding overall. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all declining in Chicago. But as of June 17, the end of last school year, CPS showed stark racial disparities in vaccination rates, WBEZ’s analysis found.
Majority-Black schools on the West and Southwest side had only about a quarter of all students fully vaccinated, compared with 86% of white students on the North Side.
There’s little reason to believe those numbers have improved. Citywide data show that vaccination rates among those ages 5 to 17 barely inched up over the summer, going from 59% to 59.7%.
Meanwhile, Chicago is recording an average of about 100 COVID cases a day among children under 17, and one or two children a day are hospitalized.
Schools and parents will have their hands more than full this year, getting students back on track academically and socially after two years of the worst public health crisis in a century. Children will also need extra emotional support to cope with trauma and violence in their communities, as CPS CEO Pedro Martinez noted in a speech to the City Club of Chicago this week.
Martinez said schools can’t do that alone, and he’s right. “This is not just a CPS issue, this is a citywide initiative,” as Martinez said.
Providing Chicago students with academic, social and emotional support in the coming year is essential. So, too, is protecting them from a potentially deadly virus.
There’s one weekend left until school begins. Parents, if you haven’t done so already, make a plan to get your child vaccinated.
The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.