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CPS Classes Canceled Again Friday, But Some Schools Could Reopen, District Says

Individual principals will tell parents if they should bring kids to school Friday, CPS officials said.

Tara Stamps directs traffic as members and supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union demonstrate at Union Park on Jan. 5, 2022 in response to CPS canceling class Wednesday.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Friday amid the ongoing dispute with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The cancellation marks the third straight day of no classes as district and union leaders negotiate the safest way to have school while the city is enduring its worst-ever COVID-19 surge driven by the Omicron variant.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said Wednesday school principals will be authorized to provide in-person instruction and other academic services Friday “as long as we have the staff in the buildings.”

In a letter to parents Thursday, Martinez reiterated “a small number of schools MAY be able to offer in-person activities for students if enough staff are reporting to work.” Parents were told not to bring kids to school Friday until they’d heard from their principal.

The district has made food service available 9 a.m.- 12 p.m. while classes are cancelled, and Safe Haven sites will be open Friday for child care. Those sites are here.

Despite the option of opening Friday, some principals have already told parents there still isn’t enough staffing and there will be no classes until at least next week. About 13 percent of teachers and 16 percent of substitute teachers reported to schools Thursday, according to CPS. 

Budlong Elementary, 2701 W. Foster Ave. in Lincoln Square, will not have classes through Jan. 12, principal Naomi Nakayama told parents in an email. Nakayama said the school is making arrangements for students to pick up devices in case there is remote learning and enrichment packages to complete at home.

Sutherland Elementary, 10015 S. Leavitt St. in Beverly, will not have classes Friday. Parents and guardians should not send their children to school, Principal Meg Burns wrote to parents.

RELATED: Chicago Parents ‘Fed Up’ With Clashes Between CPS, CTU — And Some Plan To Leave The District

Chanon DiCarlo, a parent of three kids at McPherson Elementary, 4728 N. Wolcott Ave., said Thursday she was waiting to hear from Principal Debbie P. Nikokavouras about Friday’s arrangement. Nikokavouras told parents earlier this week she’d been collaborating with principals at nearby schools to figure out the “best activities possible for our scholars, given the teachers available,” according to an email.

Some of the activities she and other principals are considering include “remote learning options, grade-level work packets or tutoring, sports practices or having some students return to in-person instruction if their teacher is available to work in-person,” her email said.

“I give principals a lot of credit. The leadership that Mrs. Nikokavouras has given our school has been extraordinary,” DiCarlo said.

With in-person classes cancelled three days in a row and no timeline for their return, DiCarlo said doesn’t understand why the district and union didn’t resolve these issues before the winter break to avert the chaos parents are now navigating with their children.

“Everybody’s just trying to make power moves but it’s the kids that lose every single time when both entities [CPS and the union] do this,” DiCarlo said.

Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, criticized the district’s policy of leaving school openings up to individual buildings.

“This is a districtwide crisis and we need a districtwide strategy,” LaRaviere said in a statement Thursday. “It should not be an ad hoc reactionary response that creates inequities that are predictable among social and economic lines.”

LaRaviere also said Martinez told principals in meetings this week that schools would be closed Thursday and Friday, potentially go to remote or hybrid learning next week and return to in-person Jan. 18. Later, Martinez announced the strategy of letting principals decide what services they could offer Friday based on staffing.

“To tell principals schools would be closed this week, and then blindside us just a few hours later with a public statement that principals will decide to either open or close our schools on Friday is offensive and unsafe,” LaRaviere said. “It removes district management from the responsibility of making and explaining difficult decisions on school reopening and puts principals right in the line of fire.”  

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, attends a press conference promoting COVID-19 vaccination in Chicago communities of color at City Hall on Nov. 16, 2021.

As COVID-19 positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths have ticked up, teachers union members have pushed to reinstate remote learning for the entire district to protect students, teachers, staff and communities.

District and city leaders have rebuffed a district shutdown, saying there is limited evidence of in-school coronavirus transmission, and keeping kids out of school harms their mental and social health.

Axios reported Thursday that Illinois Department of Public Health data shows the most common sites of potential COVID-19 exposures in the state are in schools. That information is collected through contact tracing and logs confirmed and probably coronavirus cases. The data does not include the city of Chicago.

On Thursday, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she has had a dedicated team studying COVID spread in schools since the beginning of the pandemic. She said she is confident about school safety because despite thousands of kids needing to quarantine because they were in close contact to someone who contacted COVID-19, roughly 1 to 3.4 percent of those students became sick themselves.

“That is because all of these mitigation measures are in place,” Arwady said.

CPS locked teachers out of online classrooms Wednesday after the union Tuesday voted to move to remote learning. Both sides have filed unfair labor practices against each other, according to the Tribune, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Martinez have called the union’s action an illegal work stoppage.

There’s been little information Thursday from either side about the state of negotiations. Lightfoot and Martinez said in a statement bargaining talks continued most of the day and “were productive from our perspective.”

Lightfoot said Wednesday there were two major sticking points.

She said they will not agree to union demands to set benchmarks for when all of CPS needs to switch back to remote learning. She also said they would not agree to the union’s demands to make school-based testing opt-out instead of opt-in. Lightfoot said that would mean schools are doing “a quasi-medical procedure on children without their parents’ knowledge or consent.”

It is not clear when in-person instruction will resume. Union members have previously said they will work remotely until Jan. 18, the district agrees to upgraded COVID-19 mitigations like increased testing, or the city’s positivity rate, currently at 23 percent, falls to 10 percent.

“Our schools are the best, safest place for students to be during this pandemic, and we are working tirelessly to get everyone back in class every day,” Martinez said in a letter to parents. “We will continue working with CTU to resolve this situation and will provide you with ongoing updates as the week continues.” 

Alex V. Hernandez contributed to this report.

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