One week before classes in Chicago Public Schools are set to resume, 49 elected officials have signed a letter, addressed to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools, requesting what they call a safer return to in-person learning.
"We all felt that same sense of responsibility to get some answers for constituents, for families, for stakeholders," said State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, who represents the 20th district.
"I have children in CPS, and I’m trying to understand what they’re going to be walking into and how I can prepare and support them in that effort," she said.
Pacione-Zayas penned the letter along with Ald. Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward. Forty seven others signed on, including State Rep. Kambium Buckner.
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"I was a CPS student. My mother was a CPS teacher. I have a sister who’s a CPS special education teacher right now. I have another sister who’s a CPS principal. This is important to me. This is personal to me," said Buckner, who represents the 26th district.
In the letter, elected officials say "they are deeply concerned that Chicago Public Schools' current plan for students and staff to return to school buildings rolls back many important safety mitigation standards."
Here is the full text of the letter:
"Covid has revealed to us there’s not clear right and wrong answers. We know collaboration is a critical piece of getting to whatever answer it is," said Rep.Marcus Evans.
"We [have] to make people feel comfortable about going back to an environment that could be challenging," said Evans, who represents the 33rd district.
In its reopening plan, CPS says masks are required for all staff and students, social distancing of three feet will be enforced wherever possible, classrooms will be equipped with air purifiers, and testing will be offered to all students and staff weekly.
"The current parameters are a good start, but we need to go a little further," said Buckner.
"I think there are still too many questions," he said. "We need clear cut guidelines about social distancing in our classrooms. How do we get our students we lost contact with during the pandemic back on the road? And are we respecting the fact our children just went through 18 months of an extremely traumatic year and a half? Are we preparing properly to reacclimate them to classrooms?"
The letter lays our four requests to city leadership including more collaboration with teachers and community members. They're asking the district not to roll back social distancing, quarantine and contact tracing protocol. They want more outreach and home visits to students who are unaccounted for and have disengaged during the pandemic. They also want qualified professionals hired to help students readjust back to in-person education.
"The other major, major issue I was hearing a lot from constituents and also observations of my own children is around the social-emotional impact of all this and the need to have full time social workers, full time nurses in schools," said Senator Pacione-Zayas.
"We have the federal resources to be able to supplement and support the efforts to staff up."
Chicago Ald. Emma Mitts said she is joining her colleagues in signing the letter over "deep concerns [the] current plan for students and staff to return to school buildings might have the potential to unintentionally put at-risk... its students.”
In a statement, she tells NBC 5 in part, "I’m a strong advocate for community participation in local public policy issues affecting our city constituents. That’s why it is so important to me that we make sure clear, consistent, and equitable plans are in place during this COVID-19 pandemic to serve and protect the children and youth of Black and Brown families from this devastating, ever-evolving virus."
Lightfoot was asked about the reopening plan at a news conference on Monday.
"Our schools are safe. We have a mountain of evidence of that fact," said Lightfoot. "CPS put in a $100 million in COVID mitigation efforts over the course of last school year to be able to open up safely."
Chicago Public Schools did not reply to a request for comment.