LOGAN SQUARE — Teachers who feel unsafe heading back to schools are being locked out of their virtual classrooms — and replaced by substitutes who are teaching remotely anyway, frustrated parents say.
Jenny Ludwig’s 4-year-old daughter only saw her teachers in her blended pre-K class for three days last week.
Both instructors refused Chicago Public Schools’ mandate to teach at Brentano Elementary in Logan Square as the district relaunches in-school instruction for thousands of students this month. The teachers were then locked out of their virtual classroom, preventing them from doing any instruction at all.
“The [pre-K] program is planned down to the tiniest detail,” Ludwig said. “These are people who have really built relationships with the children, so when one of them is gone, it’s a really big deal.”
Ludwig, whose two daughters attend Brentano, is one of many parents frustrated over the district’s decision to lock out teachers refusing to report to their school buildings because of coronavirus concerns.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have clashed with Chicago Teachers Union leaders for weeks about the reopening. City leaders want families to have in-person learning available as an option while union officials say the community spread of coronavirus makes in-person learning dangerous for students, teachers and their families.
Before schools reopened, Lightfoot and Jackson warned teachers who didn’t report in for in-person learning would face consequences. Starting Tuesday, the district put 143 teachers on “absent without leave” status, locking them out of district accounts and freezing their pay. As of Friday, 87 teachers were absent without leave.
Teachers and their community supporters have continued to push back, urging city schools to close until the COVID-19 outbreak here is less severe or until teachers can get vaccinated. Teachers staged a “teach out” Wednesday in front of the home of Miguel del Valle, Chicago Board of Education president. On Friday, teachers and CTU allies held a car picket in Union Park ending near the home of board Vice President Sendhil Revuluri.
After teachers were locked out and some students had no class for a day, substitutes took over for the remainder of the week — but they worked remotely, parents told Block Club.
That was particularly frustrating for Ludwig, who said her daughter’s teachers were punished for working from home, but then they were replaced by a substitute who did exactly that.
Ludwig’s children did not tune into class Friday in support of the teachers. They instead learned about the importance and history of unions and community action, she said.
We are “raising them to be good citizens and part of that is being part of a community,” she said. “In the pandemic and in general, it’s important to think about everything from a community point of view, and the choices CPS is making right now are not being made from a community point of view.”
Ludwig also sent an open letter to Jackson and Lightfoot condemning the lockout, calling it vindictive and senseless. She said she has not received a response, but the letter gained more positive attention from teachers and parents than she anticipated.
“It’s horrible that so many teachers feel forced to go back,” she said. “Teachers would much prefer to stay safe. It’s cruel to prevent teachers from teaching and not pay someone in the middle of the pandemic.”
CPS officials did not respond to requests for comment. On Friday, Jackson doubled down on the reopening plan, saying she has “no doubt” the district is doing the right thing by returning to in-person learning. Parents who are unable to skip work to supervise their children during at-home instruction also expressed relief.
But parents who decided to keep their kids home are skeptical of hybrid instruction — and believe the quality of their child’s education will suffer.
Kate Nolan, a parent of a 4-year-old at Murphy Elementary in Irving Park, said her daughter also had a substitute teacher last week, interrupting remote learning that has been “phenomenal” all year.
“I’m angry that my daughter was cut off from her teacher so suddenly and given something so far below the quality of instruction she was getting,” Nolan said. “I’m so angry at what [the] CPS central office is putting our school, the teachers and my wonderful little girl through. I feel like with this remote plan, CPS is forcing us to choose between questionable safety and questionable instruction.”
Arielle Maldonado, a community organizer and Funston Elementary middle school special education teacher in Logan Square, said the lockout was a petty move with no communication about substitute teachers from district officials.
Maldonado said the lockout would not be an issue if CPS agreed to let teachers continue to teach remotely, especially as COVID-19 cases were reported in schools last week and a more contagious variant of coronavirus has been found in Chicago.
“The quality of education is about to diminish substantially,” she said about the optional reopening plan. “There is no way we can monitor kids on the computer and those in the classroom.”
Carlos Figueroa, a single father of four CPS children who attend separate schools, said none of his children’s teachers got locked out of their virtual classrooms and they are still teaching remotely. He said he thinks the reopening plan is not safe and wants to wait until at least next year to send his teenagers back to in-person learning.
Figueroa, who is paraplegic, has a 14-year-old son with autism who attends Vaughn Occupational High School, which reported at least one COVID-19 case last week, according to the district. Figueroa said although remote learning has been a challenge, news of the new COVID-19 cases makes him extra wary of sending his son back, especially since he and his mother, who lives with him, are immunocompromised.
“We’re really not going to go over there,” Figueroa said. “We will do more with the computer and remote learning.”
It’s unclear when or if teachers who are considered absent without leave will be given access to their virtual classrooms again.
“Parents have complained of children devastated by the loss of their teachers, no substitute teachers for their classes, and the stupidity of forcing workers back into unsafe buildings even when zero children are returning to their classrooms,” CTU leaders said in a Friday press release.
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