CPS parents caught between district and CTU fear students are falling behind, push for stability

“While the union and district work out their issues, our kids should not suffer as a result,” a parent petition says.

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CPS parent Willie Preston expresses his desire to have students and teachers return to school to avoid an academic gap compared to other students at private schools during a press conference on the corner of S May St. and W 66th St outside of Bass Elementary in Englewood, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.

CPS parent Willie Preston expresses his desire to have students and teachers return to school to avoid an academic gap compared to other students at private schools during a press conference outside Bass Elementary in Englewood, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As yet another standoff unfolds between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, parents with varying circumstances and a range of viewpoints on reopening schools have expressed some of the same basic desires — they want safety and educational stability and fear their students are falling behind.

Rose McDonough’s autistic son, Michael, attends Vaughn Occupational, a special education high school on the Northwest Side. Michael is 21 and is in a program that helps students transition to adulthood with life and career training. He returned to his classroom in the first phase of CPS’ reopening earlier this month.

“So far so good,” Rose McDonough said of her son’s return to in-person learning.

But McDonough has been worried about her and her son’s health. She’s recovering from open heart surgery last year and her immune system still isn’t at full strength. She wanted her son to stay home, but he wasn’t doing well without socialization even though his teachers have done a good job with remote lessons, McDonough said.

If the labor strife between the CTU and CPS doesn’t get solved soon, she worries schools will close again, putting her son “back to square one.”

Some parents push for reopening

Willie Preston, a father of six, is worried about support for children who aren’t attending school in person.

“I am concerned for myself and my neighbors,” Preston told reporters at a news conference outside Bass Elementary in Englewood. He and other parents held signs highlighting the achievement gap among whites and students of color as well as the district’s decision to close 50 schools in 2013. “When I ride home from work, I see kids at all times of day, walking freely. They don’t have stability. ... The virus is not the only thing we have to consider.”

A group of 11 parents at Coonley Elementary, all of them doctors, shared their concerns this weekend in a letter advocating for the reopening of schools — though they acknowledged “there will be anxiety and things will not be perfect out of the gate.”

“We will have positive cases in our school after reopening, but this does not mean the system has failed,” the letter reads. “Based on a multitude of data, the rate of cases and the rate of spread in school will be no higher than in the general population, and with strict implementation of control measures, it may even be better.”

Petition: Don’t lock out teachers

Meanwhile, a petition signed by almost 200 parents urged CTU and CPS to come to a resolution that best suits families and specifically asked the district not to lock out teachers from remote work.

“While the union and district work out their issues, our kids should not suffer as a result,” the petition, organized by parent Miguel Bautista, said.

“I hope we can stand together to deliver our message to the principal and district that their disputes should not be interrupting our kids’ education. We have suffered enough with the pandemic, remote learning and now transition to hybrid. We do not need teachers locked out while they negotiate.”

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