Preschool teacher Erin Berry greets students as they walk into Dawes Elementary School at 3810 W. 81st Pl. on the Southwest Side, Monday morning, Jan. 11, 2021. Monday was the first day of optional in-person learning for preschoolers and special education students with complex disabilities in Chicago Public Schools. Credit: Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times/Pool

BRIGHTON PARK — With Chicago Public Schools set to receive $1.8 billion in federal relief funds, parents and students are demanding the district include them on decisions on how that money is allocated across schools.

Members of parent group Raise Your Hand, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Enlace held a virtual news conference last week about the funding. For months, the groups have pushed “trust, learning and care” demands. Their top priorities are hiring more support staff for students and more social workers, installing nurses at every school and providing additional resources for remote learning.

Catlyn Savado, a youth organizer with the Cops Out Of CPS campaign, said neighborhood leaders have pushed the district to steer more resources to underserved school communities. 

Savado called on CPS to establish “school environments that don’t leave students behind.”

“We have been told the only solution is being back in the building and normalcy, [but] normal doesn’t work, it’s never worked,” Savado said. “Normal is Black and Brown communities suffering. Normal is Black and Brown parents being deprived of resources.”

CPS parent Chinella Miller agreed, saying the pandemic exacerbated educational inequities that have long plagued their schools.

“You want us to get back to normal, but the reality of it is our normals are two different normals,” Miller said. “We were already having issues inside of CPS before the pandemic. Because you failed us before the pandemic, we need you to go back and fix those things first, before we can get back to what our normal is.

“We have been asking for the same things over and over and over … . We need you to step up, let us get a seat at the table and we need you to listen and follow through with our needs.”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson speaks with the press at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School during the first day of in-person learning for high school students on April 19, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said recently the money is to support three specific initiatives: reopen schools safely; address academic, social and emotional needs of students born from prolonged school closures; and plug CPS revenue shortfalls.

CPS also plans to provide upfront funding so schools can provide robust summer programs, Jackson said.

The funding “is short term … and it is directly given to address the pandemic. We are trying to be fiscally responsible, while also paying close attention — laser-like attention— to the needs that we know our students have as a result of being out of schools for a year due to the pandemic.”

The district soon will release “a comprehensive plan” on how it plans to use the money in the next few years, Jackson said.

“The first step in any school budgeting process is providing our principals and local schools their specific budgets so they could plan hiring or retaining teachers and staff,” Jackson said.

District officials said in a press release the 2021-22 school budget includes:

  • $225 million in additional funding to “prioritize the needs of students and community through a focus on holistic social-emotional and academic supports.”
  • $85 million for school leaders to use as they wish “to address needs created by the pandemic.”
  • $66 million in Equity Grants to support high needs schools.
  • $32 million to “mitigate the impact of COVID-19.”
  • $17 million for more nurses, social workers and case managers. CPS says it will add 78 nurse, 44 social worker and 51 special education case manager jobs.

But parents said the district has to go above and beyond for communities that were already starved of resources before coronavirus hit. 

With federal funding that could reshape CPS schools on the South and West sides, Joseph Williams, a parent of five CPS students, said communities are at a place “where we are were being left out of the decision-making.”

“We shouldn’t have to guess where the money is going,” Williams said. “For far too long, the South and West sides have been disinvested in. We’ve talked about it over and over. This is the time to try to make it right … . This is the time to do what we can for the South and West sides of Chicago so they can now match the North Side.”

CPS did not answer questions about whether CPS would allow parents to be at the table to weigh in on how the federal money will be used.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) talks about Black and Brown solidarity under the Little Village Arch in June 2020. Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), who represents Little Village and North Lawndale, supported the demands made by parents and students for additional outreach staff and resources to bridge technology gap.

As another 17-year-old was gunned down last week in the ward, “our communities are in desperate need for additional mental health support,” Rodriguez said.

The alderman said he is “100 percent” in support of these demands and would work to see them realized.

Gloria Soto, a CPS parent and a mentor with with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said she saw a lack of economic support at schools during the pandemic, and she knows people are concerned about the safety of school buildings as the district reopens.

“As Black and Latinos communities, we deserve the same resources as white communities,” Soto said.

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Pilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.orgnnPilsen, Little Village and West Loop Twitter @MauricioPena