WOODLAWN — After an elementary classroom assistant died from coronavirus amid rising cases at his school, the Chicago Teachers Union is again calling on Chicago Public Schools to offer vaccine and testing at all schools — but Mayor Lori Lightfoot has rejected the idea.
JonL Bush, who worked as a special education classroom assistant at Andrew Carnegie Elementary School, died Nov. 26 from COVID-19, said his mother, Claudette Bush. He was fully vaccinated but had a breakthrough case, she said.
Carnegie Elementary, 1414 E. 61st Place, has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases since Thanksgiving break began Nov. 24. CPS spokespeople did not respond when asked whether Bush’s illness and death could be traced to the school.
Carnegie staff and CTU leaders joined Claudette Bush at a news conference Monday, calling for in-school vaccination and testing options across the district, custodial staff increases and faster response times to issues of cleanliness and COVID-19 prevention.
“We need to pause, and we need to evaluate what is not in our school communities,” union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “We need vaccines anchored here. Parents need to be able to roll up and see a tent where vaccines are available. Families need to roll up and see testing that is happening.”
Some speakers, including Claudette Bush and Carnegie math teacher Lisa Coleman, demanded a return to virtual instruction at the school.
The district should take a case-by-case approach to addressing rising cases in schools, said Coleman, who is also a member of Carnegie’s local school council.
Carnegie’s post-Thanksgiving spike “tells us people are socializing, people are gathering, so we have breakthrough cases,” Coleman said. “… I do not want to bury a student, I do not want to bury a colleague and my family does not want to bury me. We need to do something, and do it today.”
Eighteen coronavirus cases were reported at Carnegie Nov. 24 through Sunday, according to the district’s data dashboard. That includes seven reported cases Friday, the school’s highest single-day total of the school year.
Carnegie reported 11 cases total this school year prior to the break, according to the district.
As of Sunday, 113 people at Carnegie were isolated or quarantined. Prior to Thanksgiving break, the highest daily total was 48.
“Miss Lightfoot, it ain’t safe,” Claudette Bush said. “I don’t know what the solution is, and I know COVID is devastating the world, but it ain’t safe back in these schools. I’m here to tell you, because [JonL Bush] is dead today.”
The district’s Office of Student Health and Wellness and the Chicago Department of Public Health investigated “multiple recent cases” at Carnegie and “found no evidence of widespread or unchecked in-school transmission,” CPS spokesperson Mary Fergus said.
Some classes have moved to remote learning as a result of recent positive tests, but “there is no public health recommendation or requirement to close this school,” Fergus said.
“Shutting children out of school hurts families and makes students less safe,” Fergus said. “It drives children into informal, last-minute, unstable learning and care spaces that have fewer COVID-19 protections in place. This may worsen community spread of the virus. Fear-led decisions often have unintended and harmful consequences.”
Lightfoot dismissed calls for CPS to offer coronavirus testing and vaccination options at all schools as “not driven by science and data” and a “campaign season” talking point in a news conference Monday.
“Frankly, it’s a little distressing that when somebody has died, they’re using that as an opportunity to score political points,” Lightfoot said. “… The plan that’s in place is a strong plan.
“The science tells us and experience tells us [vaccine and testing access at each school is] not the best way to get things done, because you don’t see the level of uptake when you have resources spread that thin.”
At the majority of Chicago schools, fewer than 10 percent of students have signed up for the district’s school-based COVID-19 testing, Chalkbeat reported last week.
Less than an hour after the news conference, Fergus confirmed testing will be available Wednesday at Carnegie, and a two-part “vaccination event” will be held at the school 10 a.m.-noon Dec. 13 and Jan. 3.
The district “will continue to address cleanliness issues with targeted cleaning and additional resources,” Fergus said.
“Chicago Public Schools extends its deepest and most sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the Andrew Carnegie Elementary employee who passed away late last month,” Fergus said. “While this employee’s tragic death on Nov. 26 has shocked and grieved us all, the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence supports the truth that vaccination remains the most effective weapon and protection from the virus.”
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