Afternoon Edition: Jan. 5, 2021

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced today that a return to in-person learning will push through despite staff’s concerns about COVID-19 safety.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

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Afternoon Edition

Chicago’s most important news of the day, delivered every weekday afternoon. Plus, a bonus issue on Saturdays that dives into the city’s storied history.

This afternoon will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 34 degrees. Tonight’s low will be around 24 degrees. Tomorrow will be about the same: cloudy with a high near 35 degrees.

Top story

40% of Chicago teachers and staff didn’t report to schools as ordered, district says

About 40% of Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff who were expected to report to schools Monday for the first time during the pandemic didn’t show up for in-person work, officials said today, accusing the Chicago Teachers Union of pressuring its members to defy the district’s orders.

In all, about half of teachers and three-quarters of support staff in preschool and special education cluster programs returned to classrooms as expected, accounting for 60% of the 5,800 employees told to go back to schools, the district announced. The first two days after winter break last school year saw about 83% of employees present.

In a sign of the increasing tension between the school system and the teachers union, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said that the number of employees who reported to work was “significant considering the fact that they were pressured by the union not to return.”

Those who didn’t show up and elected to continue teaching remotely were sent emails telling them their absence was unexcused. Jackson said those who continue to ignore their orders will face progressive discipline according to the union contract, but that it’s in nobody’s interest to fire teachers.

“We are optimistic that more staff will report to work in the coming days,” Jackson said, though indications from the staff suggested otherwise.

In a morning news conference with reporters, Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said principals are looking for more input on the district’s reopening plan. A survey of 300 principals and assistant principals conducted this week found only 29% felt they’d received enough support from the district, and only 17% agreed that opening in January or February was the right decision, LaRaviere said.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said on the same call that “there are a tremendous amount of concerns and many of our members are not feeling safe at all, are feeling more anxious and scared than ever.” Those who were no-shows Monday cited health and safety concerns and a lack of trust in the school district’s coronavirus mitigation protocols.

In a survey conducted by the union, 69% of members who did return reported conditions in schools that were “not adequate,” Sharkey said. Among staff concerns, Sharkey said, were “filthy” buildings, those in “various states of disrepair” and either missing or inadequate air purifiers.

But in a separate news conference today, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged those outside the school system to go see for themselves what measures have been put in place. Lightfoot said CPS, working with the Chicago Department of Public Health, has “gone over and above” what’s been done at private, charter and area Catholic schools.

“We can’t write off the school year, as some have said to me privately, and which inflamed me,” Lightfoot said. “Writing off the school year is writing off children’s lives.”

Read the full report from Nader Issa and Stefano Esposito here.

More news you need

  1. Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on President-elect Joe Biden to deliver significantly more COVID-19 vaccines to Chicago and other cities or face a drawn-out pandemic that will last well into 2022. The mayor said it will take Chicago almost a year and a half to vaccinate all the city’s residents unless things speed up.
  2. The coronavirus has killed 126 more Illinois residents and spread to an additional 6,839 people, but the state’s average testing positivity rate declined today for the first time in 11 days, officials said. The new cases lowered the seven-day average positivity rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 8.5%.
  3. An Antioch teenager who fatally shot two people and wounded a third amidst sometimes violent summer protests on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, pleaded not guilty today to charges including intentional homicide. Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, entered his plea in a hearing conducted by teleconference.
  4. As Georgians head to the polls in a pair of runoff elections that could determine control of the Senate and by extension the course of Joe Biden’s presidency, a number of Chicagoans are engaged directly in the fight — and excited about what they’ve witnessed. From old-fashioned door-knocking to sophisticated texting efforts to standing on street corners with signs, these campaign workers have blanketed Georgia for two months.
  5. One Republican contender, Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, has deep, formative ties to downstate Illinois and Chicago, Lynn Sweet reports. Loeffler was born in central Illinois, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her MBA from DePaul.
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A bright one

For Daniel Kyri, it’s ‘an honor’ to represent Black, gay people on ‘Chicago Fire’

When he was out and about in a pre-pandemic world, actor Daniel Kyri often would be recognized by “ChiHards,” a legion of dedicated fans of “One Chicago,” NBC’s popular franchise consisting of “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.,” and “Chicago Med.”

His character, firefighter Darren Ritter, a gay Black man, has a voice on “Fire,” one of the most-watched series on TV. 

“You make assumptions that there are certain demographics that the show might hit due to its working-class, first-responder world,” said Kyri. “People from all walks of life — they tune in to the show, which is another reason that I’m excited to play Darren Ritter, because I think there’s more opportunity for people to see themselves reflected on the screen.”


Adrian S. Burrows Sr./NBC

When he was a kid, Kyri says those opportunities to see people he could identify with were few and far between in movies and TV series.

“With anything, once we begin work, it doesn’t mean that the work is over,” said Kyri, a South Shore native. “There’s always more work to do. There’s always more representation that we can be pushing for. I think the largest thing that I feel is gratitude. I didn’t see queer, Black dudes on TV, and if I did they were usually a joke. … Now we see it across many, many shows and I think that it’s indicative of a positive change that is being reflected in the ‘Chicago’ shows about first responders. It’s an honor for me — I love it.”

The show resumes new episodes at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WMAQ-Channel 5.

Read Evan F. Moore’s full interview with Kyri here.

From the press box

Last time the Bears faced the Saints, Mitch Trubisky watched from the sideline as a backup. The quarterback discussed what he learned from that game with reporters ahead of the wild-card matchup.

How much will it matter, though? “The worst thing an NFL franchise can do is link up with a kind-of-good quarterback” like Trubisky, Rick Telander writes.

And on the defensive side of the ball, the unit needs to make some major corrections if it’s going to be able to stop Drew Brees. “[Aaron] Rodgers laid out a clear blueprint for Brees,” Jason Lieser writes.

Your daily question ☕

What are you doing to maintain friendships during the pandemic?

Email us (please include your first name and where you live) and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: Will you be participating in Dry January? Here’s what some of you said…

“Yeah! Trying to see if my sleep improves. (And to save some money).” — Sarah Thomas

“Yes, I will! 2020 saw me drinking more than ever and subsequently packing on the pounds with all the wine. January detox for sure.” — Erica Wasilenko

“No. I have done it in the past, but the lack of holiday celebrations this year means that there’s really not much from which I need to detox.” — Jennifer Barnes

“I tried but only made it to the 3rd!” — Sheila A. Nugarus

“I don’t know what that is. And I don’t want to know.” — Steven McCoy

Thanks for reading the Chicago Afternoon Edition.Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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