23 aldermen urge mayor and CPS to implement new COVID-safe policies for reopening

In a petition to Mayor Lightfoot, CPS Interim CEO Jose Torres and Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle, local and state lawmakers demand hybrid-learning options, better COVID precautions.

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Students head to class at Lane Tech College Prep High School on the North Side, Monday morning, April 19, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin García/Archivo Sun-Times

In a petition citing concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 23 aldermen and other state lawmakers have asked Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools leaders to reconsider plans to reopen schools this month.

“I think the main thing is that because we don’t have a vaccine available for children under 12 at this point, parents really want to understand in straightforward terms what are the safety protocols in place,” said state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, who co-wrote the petition with Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).

Outlined in the petition, aldermen including Anthony Beale (9th), Stephanie Coleman (16th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) demand that CPS allow teachers to be equal partners in reopening planning, recognize the trauma students endured over the past 18 months and maintain more than 3-feet of social distancing, quarantine and contact tracing protocols.

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Classes begin in-person Aug. 30 and, according to CPS’ website, all students will be required to pass a daily online health screening before entering a school. Those who do not pass will be asked to stay home and quarantine for 14 days.

Meanwhile, testing throughout the school year will fall into three categories: testing for those experiencing symptoms; quarantine testing for those in close contact of a COVID-positive person; and optional surveillance testing twice a month for asymptomatic persons.

But Pacione-Zayas, who has two children in CPS, said more steps need to be taken to facilitate a safe return to school — starting with a hybrid option.

“If we know that the majority of our students didn’t come back in April, when we made it possible, why are we going full force next week?” she said.

Pacione-Zayas added that the increase in children testing positive and hospitalized for COVID-19 is worrisome, and her own constituents have expressed uneasiness about sending their students back.

The petition offers a solution of matching students that want a virtual experience with educators who may be unable to teach in-person due to medical reasons.

The petition also asks for the allocation of funds for clinicians, special education teachers and support personnel, plus the possibility of home visit programs through partnerships with community organizations, social service agencies and school staff.

Pacione-Zayas said she has not received a response from the mayor’s office or CPS.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct the number of aldermen and state lawmakers.

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