Safety concerns prompt some Chicago teachers to refuse to return to schools

The Chicago Teacher's Union says that many members will not show up for work on Monday, in spite of instructions from the district.

About 7,000 staff including special education instructors are expected to return to school buildings. The CTU said Sunday that some teachers fear for their safety.

In an email to CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, more than 30 alderman say they’re quote "deeply concerned" about the district’s plan to reopen school buildings in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The aldermen want more changes before the doors open, including improved ventilation and filtration.

Those are two key factors right now, we’ve seen in private schools, schools in Europe, that have successfully reopened without spread in school," said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). 

And some parents are worried that vulnerable children will get sick. Danielle Giles' son Zion is in the 3rd grade at a CPS school on the North Side. Zion is deaf and has physical limitations.

"I’m high risk, my parents are high risk, Zion is high risk, so why would I send him in a situation that is not controlled?" she said.

CPS issued a statement saying in part: "The CTU has not identified any area where the district's plan falls short of public health guidelines and …CTU's last-minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latino families who selected in-person learning."

Linda Perales, a kindergarten to second grade cluster teacher at Corkery Elementary School, said she decided to continue teaching remotely because CPS’ reopening plan guidelines won’t allow her students to be taught properly.

"We know that K-2 cluster students can’t wear a face mask all day, they cannot social distance and that increases the transmission of COVID-19," Perales said in a news conference Monday. "They will have to wear a face mask all day. Teachers will have to wear a face mask all day, and that is so important to note because it’s going to make it impossible to teach letter sounds and other things like that."

Perales and other teachers said they are concerned that returning to in-person learning will affect low-income students by increasing the risk of transmission and bringing the coronavirus back to their communities, which have already been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

CPS also said the vast majority of educators were granted their learning preference. 

CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson has previously said CPS staff who refuse to show up for work without a letter from a doctor will be fired.

Lori Torres, a teacher in Logan Square, said CPS has not taken equity into consideration and is expecting teachers to teach students in-person and remotely without having extra support.

"Pushing teachers and students into buildings will weaken our remote learning plans, not strengthen them," Torres said Monday. "Teachers are expected to be two people, managing kids in front of them and managing kids on the screen. Aside from being safe, the decisions the district have made tell us that we still can’t trust that what they put into place have us in mind."

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report