While it remains unclear if Chicago Public Schools will resume in-person instruction this fall, many teachers have voiced concerns, wondering if returning to the classroom is worth the risk.
At a press conference unrelated to the schools' decision on Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said details on the district's reopening plan are set to be released, though she declined to give a specific timeline.
Paula Barajas, a special education teacher at Ruiz Elementary School on the city's West Side, said keeping schools clean was a challenge even before the coronavirus pandemic.
"...Doing it now during a pandemic makes me really nervous," she said. "I don't have confidence it can be done."
CPS has said it will work to develop its own rules and regulations to allow children to return to schools safely. Officials have planned to gather feedback from parents, teachers and other staff.
According to a survey by the Chicago Teachers Union, 85% of respondents feel they should not or might not go back to the classroom unless there is a detailed plan and resources guaranteeing a safe return.
"I haven’t heard much about PPE. I haven’t heard much about the six feet distancing," Barajas said. "I haven’t heard much about deep cleaning and what that would look like."
According to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students and staff must wear face coverings, hand sanitizer must be readily available and daily temperature checks will be required.
However, teachers say those rules alone don't go far enough to ensure a safe return.
"How do we minimize the number of people in a space?" said Stacy Davis-Gates, CTU vice president. "How do we have good air ventilation in those spaces? How do we make sure we are conforming our space to meet kindergartners, high school students?"
The state of Illinois has already unveiled its guidelines for the return to school in the fall, which specify that each district will be required to come up with their own rules for the return to class.
Under the guidelines, students will be limited to gatherings of fewer than 50 individuals, and all students age 5 or older will be required to wear facial coverings.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey previously criticized the guidelines put out by the state, calling them too "vague."
“From rural communities to huge cities like Chicago, the guidance is just too vague in general,” Sharkey said.
One of the concerns brought up by Sharkey is the mask requirement.
“Enforcing mask wearing for younger students (will be tough),” he said. “I don’t know the last time you tried to put a mask on a 6-year-old, but it’s not easy.”