UPTOWN — McCutcheon Elementary School’s first day of in-person learning Monday was marked by the absence of a teacher who has contracted coronavirus and with other staff — including school administrators — now in quarantine, according to school sources.
The elementary school at 4865 N. Sheridan Road welcomed pre-kindergarten and special education students back to classrooms Monday as part of Chicago Public Schools’ phased reopening. But a teacher’s confirmed coronavirus case, along with staff in quarantine and some out sick, have complicated the reopening, sources said.
Five staff members, including McCutcheon’s principal and assistant principal, are in quarantine following the teacher’s confirmed coronavirus case, a McCutcheon teacher and a local school council member said.
Principal Mary Theodosopoulos sent a note to school families Monday alerting them of the confirmed case of coronavirus among the school’s staff.
The teacher who contracted COVID-19 was working in the building last week in preparation of the return of students, said Jenny Delessio-Parson, a McCutcheon teacher and Chicago Teachers Union school representative.
McCutcheon is not pausing its work or reopening, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said. The school is following protocols in accordance to CPS reopening guidelines, she said.
Such protocols call for the quarantining of potential close contacts.
“It’s important to note that the report of a positive case does not indicate spread among the school community and numerous studies have shown that schools have not been major sites of COVID-19 transmission,” Bolton said in a statement.
McCutcheon’s reopening is an example of the danger posed to teachers, staff and students returning to schools, Delessio-Parson and local school council members Wilma Pittman and Brandon Lee said.
They said it also highlights another issue as schools reopen: leaving the notification of confirmed COVID-19 cases to schools that have communication problems.
“This lack of communication and lack of transparency, this is a trend at McCutcheon,” Lee said.
The McCutcheon teacher learned on Friday of their positive COVID-19 status, Delessio-Parson said. The teacher told coworkers about the situation, but an official bulletin was not sent out until Sunday night, Delessio-Parson said.
A notification about the confirmed COVID case went out to parents Monday afternoon, after students returned to the classroom, Delessio-Parson said.
“There’s not been enough communication, by far,” said Delessio-Parson, a social studies teacher who has not yet had to return to the classroom. “CPS has left so much in the hands of schools. Some schools are equipped to handle that. At our school, there is an issue with that” communication.
McCutcheon’s administration has been accused of a lack of transparency before. A family is suing the district after their preschooler son was allegedly “dragged” through the hallway there. The family only learned of the incident a month later from the Department of Child and Family Services, according to their lawyer.
McCutheon’s principal did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
As a result of the confirmed coronavirus case, three staff members, the principal and assistant principal are in quarantine, said Delessio-Parson and Pittman. The quarantine went into place before staff or teachers had any interaction with students.
Four other staffers at McCutcheon have also recently called out sick, Delessio-Parson said.
McCutcheon had 80 students opt in to hybrid in-person and remote learning, Delessio-Parson said. Of that number, 20 were set to return to classrooms Monday. A few students that were set to return did not come in to school Monday, she said. The school has 331 students.
Since March, there have been 643 “actionable reported” cases of COVID-19 among CPS adult staff and nine cases among students, according to the district’s online tracker.
CPS has mostly conducted remote learning during the pandemic, but the school district has embarked on a reopening plan that is fiercely opposed by the teachers union.
A majority of Chicago aldermen have also said they have concerns with the reopening plan. Several local school councils have asked CPS to halt its reopening plan. McCutcheon’s has not done so, but newly elected council members Pittman and Lee hope to take such action at a Jan. 20 meeting.
The Chicago Department of Public Health weighed into the fraught debate last week, saying a study it undertook showed the relative safety of classrooms compared to the general community.
CPS said the return to school helps the city’s minority and working-class families, whose students suffer from a lack of in-home resources or remote learning support. The teachers union has said reopening public schools will hurt minority communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
That includes McCutcheon, whose student population is 94 percent low-income, CPS metrics show. And with its early brush with the coronavirus, the reopening has only been made more fraught, Delessio-Parson said.
“It makes me concerned about the health of my students and my colleagues,” she said. “People want to serve their students. We want to go back in an environment that’s safe.”
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