CPS CEO rips aldermen, says reopening concerns ‘purely political’

‘We cannot sit back and allow a generation to just falter because of made up reasons around why we can’t do reopening,’ Janice Jackson said.

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks during a press conference at the Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters in the Loop, Tuesday morning, Jan. 5, 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools chief Janice Jackson took aim Tuesday at 36 aldermen who have criticized the city’s school reopening plan, calling a public letter they sent to her and the mayor over the weekend “purely political” and hypocritical.

Jackson ended a morning news conference on the district’s plans with heated remarks about “the intentions behind” the letter — signed by a majority of City Council — that said the aldermen were “deeply concerned” with the school district’s decision to bring back thousands of teachers and students this month as COVID-19 infections remain at high levels in the city.

“There have been schools operating in every single ward, in every single community throughout this city,” Jackson said, referring to private schools that have been open. “And so why the concern now? Do they care more about the lives of CPS teachers than the Catholic school teachers that have been going to school since August?”

Jackson said the district has already address “over 95%” of the issues raised in the letter and has done its best to be responsive,

“It’s important to challenge the double standard that I think people are placing on the district. I also think it’s important to challenge the hypocrisy from some of them who have children who have been going to school. They have children in Catholic schools who have been accessing that, but yet they’re making decisions or influencing the decisions of other people.

“At the end of the day we should be holding true that what’s good for individuals should also be good for the people that we’re serving and representing. ... When it’s purely political, or just a distraction, I think people need to be called out for that hypocrisy.”

Jackson also defended against claims that the district’s plan would deepen existing racial and socioeconomic inequities.

Though Jackson and Lightfoot have said reopening schools is about providing a better option to Black and Latino students who have had a tougher time accessing remote learning, only one-third of Black and Latino and a third of low-income families opted to return to classrooms while two-thirds of white families chose to go back.

The result, educators and families have said, is that teachers will have to split their focus between the classroom and the students who are still in e-learning, where most students of color will still be.

“Let’s start with the fact: The majority of students and families that have opted to return are Black and Latino,” Jackson said, before a reporter interrupted her to note that 83% of the district’s students overall are Black and Latino.

“That’s why this point around white parents is fascinating to me,” Jackson continued. “Number one, white parents opting in at a higher rate for in-person instruction does not nullify our obligation to be responsive to the data that we’re seeing and how it’s impacting Black and Latino families.

“We cannot sit back and allow a generation to just falter because of made up reasons around why we can’t do reopening,” Jackson said. “A year from now, there’s going to be a reckoning around what happened to those students that have been sitting at home, not being properly served because many of them have families who have to be essential workers.”

Some aldermen took to Twitter to respond to Jackson’s remarks and criticized CPS for not taking their concerns seriously.

“The concerns raised in the letter have been raised many times at briefings and meetings with CPS, the mayor, and her office. Aldermen, nor the public, nor teachers, nor parents have received satisfactory answers from CPS/this mayor — hence the need to a send a public letter,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa tweeted.

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