Chicago Public Schools teachers bundled up and conducted remote learning sessions outside one school in a sort of protest against the district ordering some staff back into schools on Monday despite safety concerns as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Teachers at Brentano Math and Science Academy on the city's Northwest Side sat at socially distanced tables outside the school, wearing masks and full winter gear as they taught classes virtually.
Thousands of CPS pre-kindergarten and cluster program staff members were ordered to return to classrooms Monday in accordance with the district's reopening plan, which has been met with resistance from the Chicago Teachers Union and dozens of elected officials over safety concerns.
More than 10,000 CTU members have pledged their opposition to Mayor Lori Lightfoot's plan to bring back teaching staff starting this week.
"The reality is that we just don't trust schools are safe for students and staff," said Enrique Cruz, a parent and representative for a local school council.
Cruz said he's worried for Jan. 11, when in-person learning is scheduled to resume for students enrolled in pre-K and cluster programs.
"Teachers are doing their best," Cruz told NBC 5. "Students engaged, showing it [remote learning] is working. Why not continue versus putting them at risk?"
Staff members for kindergarten through eighth grades will be back in school buildings on Monday, Jan. 25, followed by their students the next Monday, Feb. 1, per the district's plan.
The reopening plan includes a daily health screening, increased sanitation as well as the addition of HEPA filters and hospital-grade disinfectant sprayers.
"It's important for everyone to know our school buildings are safe for learning," said CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade. "We have full support from the medical community."
However, CTU claims there's no comprehensive testing plan, and some teachers have anonymously shared photos of reported filthy work conditions.
"We've had a bad experience in the past with CPS where they have made promises they haven’t delivered," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.
A CPS spokeswoman said for the first group of staffers, those who serve in Pre-K and cluster programs, 83% - 5,833 employees - were expected to return Monday, with 12% - 861 - granted accommodations or leave.
District officials pointed out that 100% of those with personal medical conditions were granted their requests. Additionally, almost 19% of those living with people who have serious medical conditions had their requests approved. Those staff members are also offered weekly COVID testing.
"I believe if all of us were vaccinated, for me, I would feel safer, that’s one of the steps to making it safer," said Quentin Washington, a music teacher at Sadlowski Elementary School.
In-person instruction will be an option for students, whose families can choose to continue remote learning. The plan also calls for high school-aged students to continue remote learning for the foreseeable future.
At 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, principals will join CTU members for a virtual news conference to "ring alarm about serious safety dangers for in-person learning."
CPS plans to provide an update on the district's reopening plan at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
On Sunday, more than 30 Chicago aldermen signed a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson, listing nine steps they want the district to take before students return to class. The suggestions included establishing a clear health criteria for reopening and improving technology for those who continue with remote learning.
The school district released an eight page response Sunday in which it addressed the concerns brought up by the aldermen.