A group of parent activists said Tuesday that it was blindsided by Chicago Public Schools’ announcement to drop the district’s mask mandate — with some calling it racist, even criminal.
The group — Activate Chicago Parents — criticized CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a video conference call Tuesday for what they said was a total lack of collaboration with parents and with the Chicago Teachers Union.
“Once again, they’ve broken our trust. How can we trust that they’re going to keep our kids safe if they don’t even work with us or work with the union?” said Brenna O’Brien, a CPS parent and co-organizer of the group, which has about 850 members.
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O’Brien said she was anticipating a mask announcement, but one that involved an agreement with CTU and one that outlined some “mask optional choices.”
Ana Santoyo, another CPS parent, said that in deciding to drop the mandate, the administration didn’t listen to the communities hardest hit by the pandemic — Black and Brown people.
“Lori Lightfoot and [CPS CEO] Pedro Martinez chose to listen to a loud minority of affluent parents. Lori and her handpicked [school] board have catered to the extreme reactionaries in every CPS decision,” Santoyo said.
Jesu Estrada, another CPS parent, said she’s “disgusted” but “not surprised” by CPS’ decision.
“To remove the mask mandate is criminal, it’s racist and it makes absolutely no sense,” Estrada said. “Why? Especially with St. Paddy’s day coming up. Why in God’s name would they imperil our kids, imperil our teachers and imperil our communities? This is ridiculous.”
The district announced at the start of the week that it plans to drop the mandate next Monday, citing a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks and a pending court ruling. But the announcement also breaks an agreement with CTU to maintain universal masking through the end of the school year.
The change comes as nearly all other Illinois school districts have switched to mask-optional policies this month, and as political pressure mounts against pandemic restrictions despite wide disparities in vaccination rates between communities.
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates tweeted after the announcement Monday that the majority of CPS families are “yet again, reminded that they [have] zero influence in how school policy is created for our kids.”
One speaker, a CPS substitute teacher who identified herself as Christine, said she didn’t quite understand the fear among parents.
She said the focus should be on getting back to learning in classrooms.
“I see second graders who don’t know their letters,” she said.
She said people need to learn to live with the pandemic.
“Also, for people who are that afraid and you’re vaccinated, I honestly don’t understand. The vaccination was put there to give you protection,” she said.