Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot sounded downright confident that the city's plan to reopen schools was foolproof. She believes that thousands of students can still safely return to their classrooms Monday as planned. If only the teachers would comply. Educators were supposed to return to the schools on Wednesday to prepare for next week's reopening. But as we reported, the Chicago Teachers Union balked and told members to continue working remotely. In short, it's sort of a mess.
Troy LaRaviere, the President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, identified a few other issues. For one, the staffing has been "unstable and unpredictable," he explained in a press call with reporters on Wednesday. Second, there aren't enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for all school staff. And thirdly, the schools have little expertise to lean on.
“We salute the district’s goals,” said LaRaviere. “However, their plans are not realistic or safe for most of our schools. Accordingly, we developed a more grounded and practical approach to resuming in-person learning.”
The CPAA is proposing a phase-in pilot program, “Returning to an In-person Teaching Environment,” or R.I.T.E., which includes input from 377 school leaders, and "fine-tuning" from more than 30 CPS principals and assistant principals, the group explains in a press release. LaRaviere simplified the program into three steps.
1. Open a small group of 50 to100 schools and in-person pilot make Covid vaccinations a priority for those pilot staff and teachers.
2. Focus the district's human and material resources for ensuring success.
3. If successful, expand the pilot every few weeks as schools demonstrate preparedness and readiness for in-person learning.
Success can be achieved by the above process because instead of sending all students back to school, the district can focus on a smaller sample size and work from there. LaRaviere shared the principals' frustration that the district has not involved them in their planning.
"Something does not make sense about that," he said, making a few comparisons.
"If you're making a product, you get the people who are supposed to use the product," he reasoned. "It's the same thing for developing a process...Even the NBA had enough sense to bring the players' union to the successful resumption of their season."
They're the ones the district hands the plans off to but "for some inexplicable reason" the district did not consult them. He adds that they had a few conversations with the union, but "there wasn't a lot of follow up on that."
"CPS typically does not respond until you pressure them to do the right thing," LaRaviere said. Sometimes, when they're really not getting through, they "have to result to embarrassing them."
LaRaviere sympathizes with parents who worry that schools aren't safe right now, but he's trying to solve the problem.
"In-person learning can work," he insisted. "Can the district itself execute a plan to make it happen?"
President Biden recently sided with the CTU this week and agreed that teachers should only return to work when it's safe to do so, suggesting that there's still a lot of work to be done.
Chicago Public Schools says that the extended at-home education has had a detrimental effect on students in more ways than one.
“We’ve seen grades, attendance, and enrollment drop significantly for many of our students in recent months, and the impact has been felt most by our Black and Latinx students,” the district said.