LOGAN SQUARE — Brentano Math & Science Academy parents were worried when the 2021-22 school year began.
Students were coming to school wearing cloth and disposable masks, rather than KN95s or other masks that better protect against the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and parents feared Brentano kids and their families, along with teachers and administrators, were in greater danger of contracting COVID-19, parent Cecilia Acevedo said.
As Mayor Lori Lightfoot battled with the Chicago Teachers Union over school safety, Acevedo and other parents sprang into action, launching a fundraising campaign to ensure every Brentano student and staffer has a quality mask.
So far, the fundraiser, launched Jan. 8, has been a huge success. As of Wednesday, parents had raised nearly $6,000, which will allow school leaders to buy about 1,700 high-quality masks, Acevedo said. More than 500 masks have already been distributed to students.
Brentano parents hope to raise enough money to buy a total of 4,000 masks to get through the school year. To donate, go here.
“We’re in a position where we can’t wait around for resources to be made available to us. We can’t wait around for the assumption that we’re going to be taken care of,” Acevedo said.
All CPS students, teachers and administrators are required to wear masks while in school to stop the spread of COVID-19.
But for many Brentano families, buying KN95s and other protective masks is a financial and logistical burden, Acevedo said. Brentano enrolls 44.4 percent low-income students, according to CPS.
Acevedo’s parent group, Brentano’s Bilingual Advisory Committee, teamed up with Friends of Brentano, another parent group at the school, on the mask fundraiser. Acevedo said her group discussed the idea right as kids were getting ready to go back to school, and the very next day Amanda Yu Dieterich with the friends of group created a GoFundMe.
Within 36 hours, the fundraiser met its goal of $5,000, Acevedo said.
“We were on an all-time high seeing there was such a great response from the community,” she said.
Under an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union, the school district is sending some KN95 masks to schools. Brentano received its shipment this week, but it didn’t include masks for kids ages 3-6, and it doesn’t cover the wide-ranging need in the school community, which extends beyond students, Yu Dieterich said.
CPS spokesman Evan Moore couldn’t provide details about mask distribution, saying the district is “working to create a timeline and procedures for the new arrangement and will share those details once they’ve been finalized.”
CPS has ordered 600,000 child-sized KN95 masks and 600,000 adult-sized KN95 masks for students, teachers and administrators so far, and plans to order an additional 4 million KN95 masks at the end of February, according to district officials.
“We even had a family asking for [a mask for] their 2-year-old,” Yu Dieterich said in an email. “While this fundraiser is for students and staff, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s a need not just for everyone inside the school but also families who are part of this community.”
Brentano’s principal Seth Lavin deferred questions about the mask fundraiser to parent organizers. But Lavin detailed the challenges facing Chicago’s schools in a Sun-Times editorial, titled, “I’m a Chicago principal. Our schools are not OK.”
“Children are not okay. Teachers are not okay. We knew this year would be hard, but we didn’t know it would be this tough,” Lavin wrote.
Acevedo, whose 6-year-old daughter Alina is a student at Brentano, said the fundraising campaign has brightened up an otherwise difficult school year.
“I saw some of the students say, ‘I got these new masks, I can’t wait to show my mom.’ It was really sweet … even at that age, they were appreciating that resource,” she said.
As the fundraiser keeps rolling, Brentano’s parent leaders, many of them first or second-generation immigrants, are hustling to get students and families the resources they need to stay safe during the pandemic.
Before winter break, the Bilingual Advisory Committee organized a clothing drive. And earlier this week, the group braved the snow to get families signed up for masks, Yu Dieterich said. Acevedo said her group also wants to bring a mobile vaccine clinic to the school.
“We are in some pretty dire circumstances, but when we come together we can accomplish so much,” she said.
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