CPS teachers discuss COVID-19 fears about returning to classrooms

“What CPS is asking educators to do is like asking someone to jump out of a plane holding a blanket when a parachute is a few rows back,” said Thad Goodchild, deputy general counsel for the Chicago Teachers Union.

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CTU members may refuse to work in-person if an agreement is not reached with CPS.

Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters march and protest Jan. 18 outside Joseph Jungman Elementary School in Pilsen.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

On the day thousands of Chicago teachers were originally required to return to their classrooms, members of the Chicago Teachers Union held a news conference to detail their experiences with COVID-19 and the difficulties they’ve faced in negotiating with Chicago Public Schools.

Dawn Kelly, a special education teacher at Bond Elementary in Englewood, was among the special education and pre-Kindergarten teachers who were locked out earlier this month when CPS mandated they return to their buildings. Kelly, who has hypertension, said her medical accommodations were eventually approved by the district, but not until after she had missed a week of school.

“My families were devastated. They had no one to cover my class, but I was sitting here in front of a computer,” Kelly said. “Why couldn’t I access my children?

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“I was locked out for over a week,” Kelly continued. “My special education babies did not receive their services. They did not receive proper education.”

The union rejected CPS’ mandate for about 10,000 staff members in kindergarten through eighth grades to report to their schools Monday. About 3,800 pre-K and special education cluster program teachers and staff returned earlier this month.

The union vote led the district to delay the return until Wednesday. City officials have said they would view a refusal to return to the classroom as a strike, but the union maintains they are threatening no such thing since they are willing to continue working remotely.

On Monday, Illinois entered Phase 1B of the coronavirus vaccination plan, which makes vaccines available to teachers and other essential workers.

The Chicago Teachers Union has proposed delaying in-person instruction until teachers and staff can be vaccinated.

“What CPS is asking educators to do is like asking someone to jump out of a plane holding a blanket when a parachute is a few rows back,” said Thad Goodchild, deputy general counsel for CTU.

Diana Muhammad, a teacher at Beasley Academic Center in Washington Park, spoke about sitting with her 5-year-old daughter in the ICU and said it was something she would never wish on another parent.

Her daughter’s situation was especially concerning, Muhammad said, because she developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome weeks after she had COVID-19. Muhammad said her daughter never showed symptoms of the coronavirus, so she’s concerned other asymptomatic children might show up to school and unknowingly spread the disease.

“It’s alarming to hear the insensitivity of the demands for all of these teachers to go back involuntarily and to know there were nights that I sat up looking at machines hoping that my daughter’s heart rate is going up,” Muhammad said.

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