McCutcheon Elementary School Credit: Jonathan Ballew / Block Club Chicago

UPTOWN — A second employee at McCutcheon Elementary School has tested positive for coronavirus, putting eight school employees in quarantine within the first few days of in-person learning at Chicago Public Schools.

The second confirmed COVID-19 case at McCutcheon, 4865 N. Sheridan Road, meets the city’s standard for a coronavirus cluster at the school, district officials said Wednesday. A case cluster is defined as two or more related cases at one school within a 14-day period.

The ill staff member already was in quarantine after a teacher learned on Friday they had contracted the virus, according to CPS.

The second COVID-positive employee was a close contact of the first case, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement. Neither person was in the school when children were present.

The newest confirmed case was announced on the third day of in-person classes this school year, with CPS welcoming pre-kindergarten and special-education students Monday as part of its phased reopening.

Teachers and staff for those classes were recalled to schools last week. But McCutcheon’s reopening has been significantly complicated after a teacher who returned to the school later tested positive, forcing other educators who had contact with the sick person to quarantine.

Among those in quarantine are McCutcheon’s principal and assistant principal, two school sources told Block Club.

Chicago Teachers Union leaders said Wednesday most staffers who returned to McCutcheon last week are now in quarantine, leaving just one educator in the building. The schools is in “chaos,” the union said in a press release.

CPS notifies the Chicago Department of Public Health when potential case clusters arise.

“While the district cannot rule out the possibility of in-school transmission, it also cannot rule out the possibility that these cases were acquired in the community, outside of school,” Bolton said in a statement.

McCutcheon’s reopening is an example of the danger posed to teachers, staff and students returning to schools, said Jenny Delessio-Parson, a McCutcheon teacher and CTU school representative.

Wilma Pittman, a member of the McCutcheon local school council, said the school needs to pause its reopening until the situation is under control.

“It’s sad that CPS would let people keep going in,” Pittman said. “They should close it until they get clear that everyone is safe.”

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 and a few ultimately did not come in Monday, she said. The school has 331 students, 94 percent of whom are considered low-income.

McCutcheon is one of six CPS schools to have reported COVID-19 cases, staff in quarantine or out sick, according to CTU.

The union has vigorously fought the reopening plan, saying it harms school staff and families in communities already ravaged by the pandemic. CPS leaders and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have said the optional school reopening plan helps disadvantaged families and students who are falling behind due to remote learning.

About 6,000 preschool and special needs students were expected to return to classrooms Monday. Kindergarten through eighth grade students are set to return on Feb. 1. In total, 77,000 of the district’s 355,000 students are expected to return to in-person learning this year.

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