CTU says classes should be held remotely in the fall

With schools facing immense challenges in protecting students, teachers and staff members during the coronavirus pandemic, the Chicago Teachers Union is urging schools to open in the fall with remote learning.

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If the Chicago Public Schools system doesn’t secure significant long-term funding in the next few years, it could face dire financial consequences.

As President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pressure schools to reopen in the fall, the Chicago Teachers Union on Wednesday called for schools to open remotely in the fall.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

As schools face the immense challenge of protecting their students, teachers and staff members during the coronavirus pandemic, the Chicago Teachers Union is urging the district to start school in the fall with remote learning.

“We stand for a safe and equitable reopening of the schools, but today COVID-19 cases are soaring instead of dissipating,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey was quoted as saying in the news release Wednesday. “There is simply no way to guarantee safety for in-school learning during an out-of-control pandemic — and that means we must revert to remote learning until the spread of this virus is contained.”

The CTU published a report Wednesday that presented what it believes would be the safest conditions to lower the risk of spreading the virus in schools this fall. Some of the report’s recommendations include clear and specific guidance from public health officials, testing and contact tracing protocols, emphasis on hygiene and physical distancing, which includes staggered arrival and pick-up times, one-way hallways and locker pods.

The report also calls for more state and federal resources to help implement a safe environment and best address students’ needs. That could cost anywhere from $450 million to $1.7 billion, the report said.

Chicago Public Schools hasn’t released its guidelines for the 2020-21 school year, but CPS spokesperson Michael Passman told the Sun-Times that the district plans to release the “preliminary framework” for the upcoming school year later this week, though he said “a decision on the potential for in-person instruction will not be made until closer to the school year when we can fully assess the public health situation at that time.”

“The health and safety of our students and staff is paramount, and our planning for the fall will be guided by the best available data and guidance from state and local health officials,” said Passman, who also said CPS executives are speaking regularly with union leadership as they work to develop a concrete plan for the future.

A June draft of CPS’ health guidelines said students, teachers and staff members will be required to wear face coverings in school buildings and submit to daily temperature checks should classes resume in-person in September.

Still, those protocols might not be enough to reduce some teachers’ anxieties. A CTU survey, released last week, showed 40% of the 4,800 teachers who responded believed in-classroom instructions shouldn’t resume until a vaccine is widely available.

While the CTU noted in its report that remote learning is an inferior alternative to in-person classes, the union also said school executives have failed to develop concrete strategies for social distancing, personal protective equipment, testing among other important protocols that will ensure safety of students, faculty and staff for the upcoming school year.

“There is no way to create a plan in this moment that addresses stakeholders’ needs and protects our children and the adults who care for them,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said in a statement. “The CTU will fight in solidarity with parents, and our allies in unions and grassroots groups in every arena — the courts, City Hall, and the court of public opinion—to protect our students and our school communities.”

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