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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

After Coronavirus Hits McCutcheon, Teachers Urge A Halt To Reopening: ‘I Don’t Feel Safe Returning To School’

Two McCutcheon staffers contracted coronavirus in the past week and eight others have been forced to quarantine. That has caused staffing shortages as some students return to classrooms.

McCutcheon Elementary School
Jonathan Ballew / Block Club Chicago

UPTOWN — McCutcheon Elementary School teachers are ramping up their opposition to Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plan after two staffers at the school contracted coronavirus and eight others were put in quarantine within the first few days of students returning to classes.

McCutcheon’s local school council met Friday afternoon and passed a resolution pushing CPS to halt its school reopening plan, joining dozens of other city schools that have done the same. Six teachers said the COVID-19 cluster at the school has them concerned for the safety of their students and fellow staff members.

“I hate remote learning,” McCutcheon teacher Megan Kelly said at the meeting. “My life would be so much easier if we could go back to class like normal. That being said, I don’t feel safe returning to school.”

With two staffers sick and eight others quarantining, McCutcheon’s in-person classroom staff has run thin, teachers and Chicago Teachers Union officials have said.

Classrooms have been combined because of a shortage of substitute teachers. School assistants are left “running around trying to support all the classrooms that are understaffed,” said Rachel Nalley, a special education teacher at McCutcheon, 4865 N. Sheridan Road. The school was left with just one educator in the building this week, according to union leaders.

RELATED: COVID-19 Cluster At Uptown’s McCutcheon School Leaves 8 Staffers Quarantined, Just 1Teacher In Building, Union Says

McCutcheon’s two COVID-19 cases occurred just two weeks into the district’s phased reopening plan. Schools opened last week to teachers and staff, who prepared for the return of pre-kindergarten and special education classes on Monday. Both staffers who contracted coronavirus were quarantined before students entered the building.

The swift discovery of cases at McCutcheon underlines the potential danger of reopening schools, union leaders say. There are 70 local school councils in the city that have passed a resolution asking CPS to pause its reopening, the union said Friday.

Despite the situation at McCutcheon, CPS officials say their confidence in the reopening has “only increased” after observing the first week of in-person classes. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said Friday the district was prepared for scenarios such as McCutcheon’s, and worked quickly to mitigate the issue.

“When we did have situations arise, we implemented with fidelity the protocols that we promised the public we would implement,” Jackson said during a tour of Jordan Community School in Rogers Park on Friday.

Pre-school students play with blocks at Jordan Community School during its fifth day of reopening.

McCutcheon’s administrators have done their best to prepare the school for children, teachers said, but a lack of support from the district has hampered those efforts. McCutcheon’s principal and assistant principal are among those in quarantine, according to school sources.

“They have went above and beyond to help me,” Nalley said of the school’s leadership. “They can’t do everything on their own. The district has set them up to fail.”

CPS Network Chief Mauricio Segovia, who participated in the meeting, said he visited McCutcheon this week to offer support for the school’s staff.

Segovia acknowledged a shortage of substitutes is a “real challenge” and said school administrators have been given the OK to hire employees who would act as permanent substitutes to prevent them from working at multiple schools during the pandemic.

The district is working to support school administrations and teachers with their concerns about reopening, Segovia said. It is doing so while juggling the needs of about 40 percent of CPS families who have chosen in-person learning, he said.

“I hear your concerns and the fear that you expressed,” Segovia said at the meeting. “We also need to listen to the families looking for this level of support.”

McCutcheon Principal Mary Theodosopoulos said the school is doing everything it can to provide in-person instruction for those who have requested it while keeping the school community safe.

“This has not been an easy week for our school community,” she said. “We all want to keep our school community healthy and safe while providing the students at McCutcheon with the education they deserve. We are truly doing everything we can in our power to keep everybody safe.”

Jake Wittich contributed.

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