Earlier this month, I wrote a piece in the Chicago Sun-Times about the continued struggle between leaders at Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, and the need to work together to reach a compromise prior to reopening schools. As a result of this continued strife, an agreement has yet to be reached. In the meantime, our families -- and educators -- continue to be torn in polarizing directions.
Educators are just as torn as their students’ families between returning to the classroom and continuing remotely. While many believe conditions in their schools are unsafe and fear for themselves and their students, financial woes and gaps in learning concerns continue to exacerbate educators' mental health and general wellness.
Regardless of where they stand, the vast majority of educators that spoke with our team fear retaliation from the district or the union if they share their concerns. But that doesn’t take away from the impact of the moment and frustration in their hearts.
In an effort to highlight a variety of perspectives, here are a sample of stories educators wanted to share anonymously.
Inconsistencies in messaging for parents and general safety protocol is disconcerting for one North Side educator:
"The reopening plan has not been shared truthfully with parents. Parents are expecting their children to return to schools to receive instruction the way classes were held prior to the pandemic. In reality, students will not be able to interact with each other or with the teacher. Lunch will be in the same space they occupy when they enter the school building. Recess will look different.
When parents receive the true details, I’ve seen them change their minds about sending their children back into school buildings. Also, many parents did not know that the health screener is required on a daily basis.
The care room system in place to supervise students that are ill so far has not been effective. A teacher reported that her cluster of students are coming to school without completing the health screener that is required daily. They are told it can be done later. They are placed in the care room where there are sick students. After a while, they are sent to their classroom."
A South Side elementary school case manager disagreed with the strike vote:
"I don’t agree with a strike. The suburban, private, and parochial school districts have figured out how to reopen schools with minimal incidents. Are you telling me they are able to create systems that CPS can't, given the money and resources that we have? Data show that the incidence of COVID-19 within schools is low as long as people adhere to the health safety guidelines."
A West Side middle school teacher has made a difficult decision for the sake of her family:
"When we are required to go back, I have decided to live apart from my husband to protect his health. I recognize that I have that privilege while others may not. Just the thought, however, that we are being forced to make these types of decisions is ludicrous. Death rates are high. A vaccine is close. We should postpone our return."
A daughter’s anxiety over a South Side elementary teacher heading back into the school building reveals the complexity and nuance of reopening:
"One of my daughters was crying during our bedtime routine because she didn't want me to go back to school. She cried because she didn't want me to catch COVID-19. I know it is taking a toll on my kids. At the same time, I also know they miss their friends and a sense of normalcy, so I know our kids are affected by this, too -- not just my own children but my students."
A Northwest Side special education middle school teacher feels torn between both sides of the reopening debate:
"I’m so torn between students who I know need the help in-person and keeping everyone safe. That includes my own family. While I am slated to return, I need to be conscious that this virus continues to rage and we have no set plan for vaccination."
Disconcerting safety measures at one South Side elementary school highlighted the inner turmoil of one South Side educator:
"While we were on a strategic reopening task force meeting, we witnessed our assistant principal, who had COVID-19 in December, walk through the front doors of the school unmasked. He then told us he forgot to do his health screener. He stopped at the front desk and tried to use a laptop to do it but it was malfunctioning. We heard him call out and inquire to someone off-screen as to whether or not they had done theirs yet and that person said no. This was last week when Pre-K students and staff had already returned to the building. None of this evidence points to safety. At the same time, I really can't afford to miss pay. I got a daughter in college with a tuition payment due this month. I wish people understood that working from home is working."
These personal stories only scratch the surface of the variety of educators’ perspectives right now. Each is valid in its own right. In order to honor our educators, they depend on our education leaders to reach a compromise immediately.