CHICAGO — As some Chicago Public Schools students returned to classrooms Thursday, a group of CPS parents opposed to the hybrid learning plan gathered virtually to share their concerns about the deal struck between the district and Chicago Teachers Union.
The parents, some of them CPS graduates themselves, said the district is too focused on the kids returning to classrooms and not doing enough to improve remote learning for the students who opted to stay home — which accounts for about 80 percent of all CPS students.
Raise Your Hand for Illinois, an education advocacy group for parents, created a list of demands for the district, calling for more transparency, increased spending on remote learning and a meeting with CPS leadership.
Chinella Miller, a parent and member of her Local School Council, said parents are “tired” of fighting to be heard by the district.
“It’s only right that as parents we deserve a seat at the table to discuss the needs of our children, that’s the only thing that makes sense,” she said.
The group is calling for increased transparency through a “public record COVID complaint tracker,” increased spending to improve remote learning, prioritizing vulnerable students through “doubling efforts to eliminate the digital divide,” more resources for special education students and a public tech support center.
They also want $100 per student for remote learning expenses, more mental health services and other improvements.
Joseph Williams, a parent of five CPS students, said the demands are reasonable and “line up with our values” as parents.
“I continue to feel like I don’t have a voice,” he said. “There’s a ton of decision making happening about our children, but we don’t have any input…and these are our babies.”
A public tech support center is particularly needed, parents said. While the district provided laptops and wi-fi hot spots, the hot-spots are inadequate to support their children’s online learning throughout the day.
“We went through a period of time where we almost went through an entire week where our children had to miss school because the signal would not pick up for them to be able to attend their classes,” Williams said.
Shelly Tucker, a 2007 CPS graduate, said she’s had to upgrade her internet service twice since remote learning began to accommodate her three CPS students.
Miller said when tech issues arise, her family must contact the teacher for support.
“That means they have to take time from their instruction to assist us,” she said. “It’s not the teacher’s job to help us figure out what’s going on. We need literal tech support, teachers are not tech support, they should be instructing.”
At a separate press conference Thursday morning, CPS chief Janice Jackson said remote learning is “as strong as it can get, but it’s not a replacement for in-person instruction.”
“We’ve done everything we can do to make this work, we’ve broken down all the barriers to access, we really have to start this process of getting our kids back into the classroom,” she said.
The frustrated parents said some of the $100 million dollars the district said was spent to safely reopen schools should have been spent to improve remote learning.
Kristen Brody, a CPS graduate, parent and member of her Local School Council, said the idea remote learning is as strong as it can get is “unacceptable.” Teachers at her child’s school are paying out of pocket for physical worksheets to help engage students and limit time in front of the computer, she said.
“This is what CPS should be doing, why are teachers having to spend their own money on these packets?” she said.
Brody’s child is a diverse learner and the group is calling on the district to prioritize the needs of special education students to ensure every child is engaged in learning.
“When you meet those accommodations, all children do better,” she said. “So we need to start there instead of that being an afterthought and you have parents of diverse learners getting no information…”
Rosemary Vega said her children will remain in remote learning, in part because the district has not earned her trust over the years.
“Our battle with CPS is nothing new,” she said. “Everyone wants to go back to normal, but who can trust CPS when they don’t care? When they don’t listen? Who can trust a mayor who threatens our children’s teacher by locking them out?”
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