WEST TOWN — As Chicago teachers and CPS district leaders remain at an impasse on plans to return to in-person learning, a small group of parents gathered this weekend urging teachers not to strike.
After weeks of protests and teach-outs from teachers and their supporters across the city, about 10 parents who want their kids back in classrooms now gathered outside Chicago Teachers Union headquarters, 1901 W. Carroll Ave., Saturday asking the union not to strike.
Sarah Sachen, a parent of three CPS students who organized the press conference, said it was important to elevate the voices of parents who agreed with the reopening plan as well as to make sure CTU knows the impact a strike could have on students, especially young, diverse learners.
“At long last, they have returned to their education and established routines and learned safety protocols,” Sachen said, citing the students who have been in the classroom since Jan. 11. “The disruption of a strike for these vulnerable children is traumatizing and will impact their education and mental health.”
About 71 percent of Chicago teachers voted to approve union leadership’s plan to continue to teaching online, the union announced Sunday. About 86 percent of teachers voted on the plan. The work-from-home action comes on the first day kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers are scheduled to go back to classrooms in advance of their students’ return Feb. 1. After the union’s announcement, CPS said it agreed to let those teachers return Wednesday instead, hoping to avoid a strike.
But teachers who have already returned are in limbo: The district expects them to return Monday, while the union has urged all teachers to work remotely.
Sachen said remote learning is not equitable nor effective for all children, and expects CPS buildings to open this and prepare to receive students who want to learn in-person come Feb. 1, like her fifth grade son, a diverse learner who has struggled with e-learning for the past nine months.
“Parents should not be vilified, bullied or belittled for needing a choice to return to in-person learning,” said the single mother. “I expect a resolution quickly between CPS and CTU and for it to be based on science and fact, not fear and feelings.”
Alberto Molina, a CPS parent of two, agreed. He said his children’s progress has been set back by remote learning and welcomes the reopening plan.
“My children have always loved school but I’m heartbroken to say that after 10 months of nothing but e-learning, the spark my children have for school has faded,” Molina said, also an educator and administrator.
The parents said they respect and support the teachers but also want to make sure their children receive a quality education in-person.
“We value and so greatly appreciate their tremendous efforts during this difficult time,” Molina said. “I’m confident that they wish to return to in-person learning just as much as our students and parents.”
But the union, which noted that only 19 percent of students expected back to classrooms this month returned, said there is no reason all teachers should be in schools when the majority of students will continue learning remotely.
Teachers ramped up pressure on the district last week, working outside to show solidarity for those who fear returning to school buildings risks their safety. And parents who plan to keep their kids home have voiced frustration over the reopening plan and the district’s decision to lockout educators who refused to teach in-person out of coronavirus fears.
Although turnout to Saturday’s event was small, parents said there’s a growing number who feel the same way about the potential strike and have confidence in reopening classrooms, citing a Change.org petition that sides with CPS chief Janice Jackson and asks parents to keep pushing to get kids back in school. The petition, which launched Jan. 6, has just over 900 signatures. In comparison, another Change.org petition launched Jan. 9 that asks for CPS to halt its reopening until all educators are vaccinated has garnered over 3,700 signatures.
Jackson announced Friday morning CPS will start vaccinating its teachers and other employees in mid-February. The district has already been working on vaccinating its health care workers, like school nurses, Jackson said. CPS also is training nurses so they can vaccinate their school coworkers.
But for parents like Michelle, waiting to open schools until the vaccine is available to teachers feels like a waste of precious time. Michelle’s autistic son, who is in pre-K and went back to school in the cluster program, told Block Club Saturday he’s already waited too long for in-person learning to return.
Holding a green sign that read, “Our kids are falling through the cracks,” Michelle said she thinks the CPS plan is safe and has already seen improvements in her son’s learning in the last two weeks. She does not want to see a teacher strike that could affect her son’s progress.
“When they started school two Mondays ago to Friday, he has shown great improvements. That’s why he needs school,” Michelle said. “I feel bad for these teachers because I know how it is to be in this predicament and I want to support them but I have to look out for my son because he really needs to be social.”
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