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Teachers Union Demands CPS Close All Schools Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Chicago's public schools, which serve more than 300,000 students, have remained open — even as Catholic schools and other districts close.

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DOWNTOWN — The Chicago Teachers Union is demanding Chicago close all its schools as coronavirus spreads.

Chicago’s public schools, which serve more than 300,000 students, have remained open — and Mayor Lori Lightfoot has repeatedly said there are currently no plans to close them, though that’s being reassessed multiple times each day.

But the Chicago Teachers Union will call upon the city to close the schools on Friday. The union will hold a news conference this afternoon.

A CTU source said the union is working with CPS to nail down details on how schools can accommodate students who are homeless and students seeking meals and other services.

The union will call for the creation of a city meal delivery service for low-income students, a plan to ensure students have access to internet and a computer for distance learning and the suspension of the School Quality Rating Policy, which partially uses attendance numbers to assess school performance, according to a news release.

The union also wants all Illinois workers, including those at private businesses, to get at least an additional 15 paid sick days and for there to be a moratorium on evictions, mortgage payments and utility bills “for families in need.”

Lightfoot and other officials have said they do not want to close down schools because there is currently no significant reason to do so, especially since young people are far less likely to suffer seriously from coronavirus. They’ve also said many students need schools for meals, shelter, clothing and other things.

So far, only one school — Vaughn Occupational High School in Portage Park — has been closed after an employee there tested positive for coronavirus last week. No other employees or students of the school have tested positive for the virus so far, officials said Friday.

But the Archdiocese of Chicago closed its Catholic schools in the city, and districts across the country, including in nearby Evanston and Oak Park, have closed their schools.

CPS is allowing students to take excused absences for coronavirus.

But teachers have said they fear for their own safety and the safety of their families. They could catch the virus from their students, they said — or their students could bring it home to their families, where there might be vulnerable people.

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Samantha Spencer teaches digital media at Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, where her room full of computers has run out of cleaning supplies. Spencer, who has a compromised immune system that makes her more susceptible to the coronavirus, said her students are concerned for the safety of their teachers and their families.

“For a lot of my students, their guardians are their grandparents,” Spencer said. Elderly persons are more at-risk from the virus than younger populations. “Everyone over here agrees the schools need to close. That’s really the only option that makes sense.”

Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Friday morning there’s currently no reason to close CPS schools — and doing so could have a negative effect on the students they serve and their families due to the district’s unique population.

RELATED: Stressed About Coronavirus? Mental Health Experts Share Tips On Keeping Calm — And Not Scaring Your Kids

“We know our parents are diverse who they are, what their employment is, and when we close schools that means in a lot of instances parents have to stay home,” Lightfoot said during a news conference. “That could mean that we’re taking nurses out of hospitals, doctors out of hospitals.

“We also know that many of our parents are hourly workers and they would have to stay home because of the cost and/or availability of childcare.”

Closing CPS schools could lead to students not being able to access food and shelter during the day, Lightfoot said.

At Vaughn, the only school closed so far, CPS has tried to help students and their families by providing free boxed food that can be picked up.

But it’s not just food and shelter officials are worried about: Often when students are kept home they’re sent to their grandparents for babysitting — which could be dangerous for elderly people, who are most at risk from coronavirus, Arwady said.

Symptoms

Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

How To Protect Yourself

The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where corona is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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