Pressure Growing to Close Chicago Public Schools

The Chicago Teachers Union is calling on Chicago Public Schools to close amid coronavirus fears. Andrew Gill / WBEZ
The Chicago Teachers Union is calling on Chicago Public Schools to close amid coronavirus fears. Andrew Gill / WBEZ

Pressure Growing to Close Chicago Public Schools

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The Chicago Teachers Union is calling for the closure of Chicago Public Schools and its charter schools.

The union had previously only called for schools to be closed on election day, Tuesday, March 17, because many schools are used as polling places. But, in a press release, they say that the increase of cases has prompted them to call for all schools to close.

Also Friday, parents and parent groups were sharply criticizing the decision by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public School leaders to keep schools open. even as Catholic, private and numerous suburban schools were announcing shutdowns Friday and Thursday.

So far, Gov. JB Pritzker has not followed the lead of other state officials — including Ohio and Maryland — and called off school statewide. He holds a press conference at 4 p.m today.

Meanwhile, Lightfoot and the the Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, who is a pediatrician, seemed to dig in on their decision to keep schools open. The mayor’s office released a fact sheet on considerations for closing school. Among other things. it said that the “available modeling data indicate that early, short-to medium-closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19.”

At a news conference Friday morning they also stressed that the risk of COVID-19 spreading among kids is low and said if schools close, students may end up with grandparents, who are at greater risk of getting sick. They cited the example of CPS’ Vaughn Occupational High School, where a teacher’s aide was diagnosed. All students were advised to self-quarantine and CPS said so far no student with symptoms has tested positive. However, at least one student with symptoms hasn’t been tested yet because of official missteps. She’s scheduled to be tested until Friday afternoon.

They also said they don’t want to close schools because students rely on them for food and parents, especially low-income adults, also rely on schools for child care while they work.

But some organizations that work with low-income families say they fear keeping the schools open will put vulnerable people in their communities at risk.

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which works with low-income, mostly Latino families, called on Chicago Public Schools to close and for the city to ensure that low-income families get some financial support.

“The time is now,” said Norma Rios-Sierra, an organizer with LSNA. “We can not keep putting more and more vulnerable members at risk.”

Rios-Sierra said she understands the challenges of making sure that children, who depend on breakfast and lunch at school, get enough food. But she suggested that the school district could think about having food trucks deliver food.

She pointed out that children with compromised immune systems may live in small apartments with children going to school who could bring it into the home. She also said many grandparents live with their grandchildren. Elderly people have been found to suffer the biggest complications if they contract COVID-19. .

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.