Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday said her goal is to reopen the public schools for in-person classes this fall, prompting immediate criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union.
Lightfoot stressed that the ultimate decision to reopen will be determined by science and public health.
“Of course, I have the aspiration that our young people will be back in class so they can learn and thrive and be nurtured,” she said. Remote learning is in place, Lightfoot said, but acknowledged it can’t replace in-person school.
Lightfoot said she was particularly worried about young children, who need to be in school for socialization and to develop a love of learning.
Lightfoot also said school district officials will work with the school community, including the Chicago Teachers Union, to determine if and how schools could be opened and social distance maintained.
But union leaders said the city and school district should have consulted them before making any public statements about reopening. They also said two plans should be established: one for in-person learning and the other for continued remote learning.
While the union is wary of schools reopening, its leaders also said they are hearing that remote learning is not going well in some places. It called on the school district to release information on how many students are engaging in remote learning.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said schools should only reopen if it’s safe. He said schools will need to be rejiggered so students can sit far apart and so that hand washing stations are plentiful.
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates added that she does not see how overcrowded schools will be able to socially distance students and teachers. Davis Gates said Latino neighborhoods have been particularly hit hard by COVID-19 and that those are the areas with a lot of crowded schools.
“How are you going to socially distance in a room of 40 students?” she asked.
Union leaders said it will need to bargain on some issues around either reopening or staying with remote learning. They said they have a lot of concerns about older teachers and those with compromised immune systems, and they want to make sure those teachers aren’t pushed out of jobs.