CPS parents push to get kids back in school

Petition seeks return to in-person learning after third work stoppage in three years, but some parents still have concerns.

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Students line up at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy last spring.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The latest standoff between the city and the Chicago Teachers Union has created renewed uncertainty — and in some cases resentment — among parents whose children have now had three school years upended by the pandemic.

Vanessa Chavez, who lives on the Northwest Side and has a daughter and two stepsons at A.N. Pritzker Elementary School in Wicker Park, said she co-founded the Hispanic Community Collaborative parent group after feeling her voice had been “drowned out and ignored.”

Despite the skyrocketing caseloads linked to the omicron variant, Chavez said she’s comfortable with CPS’ plan to keep kids in school. At the same time, she faulted the CTU for allegedly spreading misinformation aimed at causing “havoc.”

“My hope would be that everybody grows up and decides to go back to the negotiating table and have teachers go back to the classroom,” she said, though she’s doubtful that will happen.

If kids are kept out of the classroom for the coming weeks, she fears for her seventh grade daughter, who she said struggled socially, emotionally and academically with virtual learning. What’s more, she said keeping kids out of the classroom also puts a familiar strain on her and her husband, who both have to work.

Though she’s a longtime CPS parent, Chavez said her opinion of the district has been soured by recent union strikes and the current CTU regime. A former Catholic school student, she said she’s now considering private school as her husband tries to convince her to stick with their plan to get the kids into selective enrollment high schools.

“I personally am done with CPS,” she said. “And it’s not because of the Chicago public school system, it’s because of the Chicago Teachers Union.”

Chavez isn’t alone.

An online petition that seeks a return to in-person learning criticizes the union’s latest labor action as “a step in the wrong direction that defies the opinions of public health leaders and puts our kids’ safety and health back at risk.” By Thursday night, it had received more than 2,100 signatures.

Michelle Egan, who has a seventh grade daughter at John C. Coonley Elementary School in North Center, said a general sense of “frustration” over the situation prompted her and other parents to start the petition.

“We can’t just sit back and watch our kids be refused the right to an education and the choice to be in school every day,” she said.

Meanwhile, other parents expressed concerns that sending kids back to school during the omicron surge poses imminent health and safety risks.

“We’re tired that CPS and the board of education [are] always making the wrong decisions,” Jazmin Cerda, a parent organizer with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and a Chicago Public Schools alumna, noted in a recent Zoom call with parents and students. “They put our communities, families, students, teachers in danger and they continue to ignore our demands.”

“If CPS continues to remain in-person, the number of cases will continue to rise without a doubt,” she added.

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