Skip to contents
Citywide

Facing Backlash For Abruptly Changing How District Reports COVID-19 In Schools, CPS CEO Says: ‘It Wasn’t Ill Intent At All’

District officials said the new way of tracking COVID-19 cases will give a more accurate view of how the pandemic affects schools. But CPS CEO Pedro Martinez acknowledged the unannounced change was confusing.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez speaks at a City Hall press conference on Dec. 21, 2021, where it was announced that proof of COVID-19 vaccine will be required for Chicago bars, restaurants and gyms starting Jan. 3.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
  • Credibility:

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools officials are defending changes to their online COVID-19 tracker but denied trying to mislead the public about how positive cases are affecting individual schools.

The district switched how it reports school-level data after winter break. Instead of tracking all potential coronavirus cases at schools, the tracker now only shows “closed” cases, or those that have been confirmed by contact tracers.

But the district didn’t announce this change publicly, befuddling and angering parents who were notified about cases at their children’s schools but weren’t seeing that reflected on the dashboard.

RELATED: Is CPS Undercounting COVID-19 Cases In Schools? Alderpeople Demand Investigation As Allegations Spread

At a press conference Tuesday, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said the district made the change to provide “the most accurate data” possible to parents, but acknowledged it caused confusion.

Martinez said the district is exploring sharing open COVID-19 cases at the school level again, but he didn’t give a timeline for when that would occur.

“The goal was to try to make sure we have accurate data. … The answer’s not: Let’s close so much of the information,” he said. “The team is going back and saying, let’s try to achieve these goals. For me, the number one question is: What does a parent need to know about their school and about the cases at their school?”

Since the change came to light, some have accused CPS officials of trying to intentionally undercount cases, particularly as city leaders battled with the Chicago Teachers Union about the safety of in-person learning during the Omicron surge. Martinez and Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, denied any malfeasance.

“It wasn’t ill intent at all,” Martinez said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Dozens of students at Solorio High School participate in a district-wide walkout on Jan. 14, 2022.

CPS parent and software engineer Jakob Ondrey, who has followed COVID-19 cases schools since February 2021 through Chicago Public Schools COVID-19 Case Tracker, was first to publicly raise questions about the district’s data tracking system last week.

He discovered that cases reported to the district were no longer showing up on school dashboards. Dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of cases weren’t being attributed to specific schools.

CPS officials acknowledged Friday they’d changed their method of data collection. Martinez said Tuesday the district switched to only reporting closed cases in part because parents were self-reporting cases multiple times and clogging up the system.

“We constantly see these issues at the district level but we can manage that. At the school level, it gets very tricky,” he said.

Martinez said he didn’t “fully appreciate the complexities” of the district’s data reporting system before the uproar. Now, CPS officials are looking into adding open cases to school dashboards, but separating them by self-reported cases, isolated cases that came in over the weekend or cases when school wasn’t in session, he said.

The data snafu comes as CPS is coming down from record-high COVID-19 cases.

The school district saw 1,320 positive cases of coronavirus last week out of 53,353 tests completed, for a 2.5 percent positivity rate. The prior week saw a 5.5 percent positivity rate.

In Uptown, Goudy’s Elementary School switched to remote learning this week after more than 240 students and staff were forced to quarantine.

Martinez said the district appears to have reached its peak last week and he’s “optimistic” cases are trending downward.

Citywide, Arwady said Chicago is “well past” the Omicron variant-fueled peak and cases are continuing to decrease, but the city and state are still seeing high case rates, positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths.

Arwady urged Chicagoans to get vaccinated as the pandemic rages on. Officials have said most of the people getting seriously ill and dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

“I don’t want people thinking this is over,” Arwady said.

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 7.8 million people — or 61.8 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 41,692 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 20,305,739 vaccine doses of the 22,936,745 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.7 million Chicagoans — or 66.3 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 74.5 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

The numbers:

• Since Monday, 121 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 30,276 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 3,666 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 13,706 cases since Monday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 2,851,567.

• Since Monday, 125,097 tests were reported statewide. In all, 50,216,132 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 11.5 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 11.6 percent Monday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 15 percent. It was at 15.2 percent Monday.

• As of Monday night, 907 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 542 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, 25 deaths were reported since Monday. There have been at least 6,815 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of 19 people dying per day, down 22 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 984 confirmed cases reported since Monday. It’s had a total of 537,070 confirmed cases. An average of 1,919 confirmed cases are being reported per day, down 48 percent from a week ago.

• Testing in Chicago is down 3 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 7.9 percent, down from 14.1 percent a week ago.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.