'She just lost him': Chicago school fight leaves families in limbo

Feb 09, 2021 Travel News

‘She just lost him’: Chicago school fight leaves families in limbo

Maggie Owens’ 4-year-old daughter was knocking on the back door, desperate to go to school.

Her daughter, Louise, a special needs student with a brain disorder, was one of the first schoolgirls in Chicago to be able to return to her classroom last month. But then, two and a half weeks after the plan to gradually reopen the neighborhood began, a clash between the city and its teachers’ union forced everyone back to distance learning, and Ms Owens told Louise that she should resume computer learning.

“She just lost him. She started crying, ”recalls Ms. Owens, adding,“ She got into a routine, she was happy, and then we just ripped her off.

After a nearly two-week hiatus of in-person teaching, Chicago Public Schools and its teachers’ union reached a tentative agreement to avoid a strike, after educators refused to work in person without further concessions. security during the pandemic.

If finalized, the district said the deal, announced on Sunday, would allow about 3,000 students in preschool and some special education classes – like Ms Owens’ daughter – to return on Thursday. The district is the third largest in the country, with 340,000 public school students.

Ms Owens, who lives in the far northwest of the city, said she was happy a deal had been reached. But she was frustrated with both the district and the union for letting the conflict escalate into a crisis.

“I feel like what’s lost there is that there are real people and real children suffering from it,” she says. “And I feel like my daughter is one of them.”

The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates, a governing body of about 800 members, voted Monday night to send the agreement with the city to the 25,000 members for ratification. The base will vote electronically, with the results expected at midnight Tuesday.

The agreement allows all students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as some high school students with disabilities, to return to school in the coming weeks.

As part of the deal, the city has pledged to offer 2,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week to staff in classrooms slated to reopen Thursday and all other employees living with high-risk people. virus. He would then provide 1,500 doses per week to school staff in the weeks that followed.

Teachers who don’t have students taking in-person lessons could continue to teach remotely, and unvaccinated teachers could take unpaid leave for the next term instead of teaching in person. The agreement also set thresholds for what would cause the district, as well as schools or individual classes, to temporarily revert to distance education.

A similar battle was unfolding in Philadelphia on Monday, where teachers conducted distance learning in the cold outside dozens of school buildings to protest what the union called a dangerous reopening plan.

Philadelphia is expected to bring Kindergarten to Grade 2 students back to schools on February 22, and teachers in those classes were originally supposed to report to buildings on Monday. But the local union had asked them to stay at home, organizing a confrontation.

At the last minute, Mayor Jim Kenney said teachers didn’t have to work in person while a mediator reviewed the district’s plan to reopen.

In Chicago, Willie Preston, a father of six who lives on the South Side, said his youngest daughter, Lear, who is in pre-kindergarten, was also caught in limbo after his school briefly reopened the last month and then closed again. She was excitedly preparing for school one morning when her wife had to break the news to her.

“She started to cry and pout, why can’t she go to school,” Mr. Preston said. “And we had to talk to her and try to explain to her that adults are arguing over whether she can go back to school or not.”

He said he had yet to tell Lear that she would most likely be able to return to school on Thursday, in case the union votes against the deal and the district is once again plunged into trouble. chaos.

“For my wife and I, one of the most important things for us and our children is stability,” he said. “I don’t want to do this to our 4 year old daughter until I have a high degree of certainty that she will come back.

Ellen almer durston contribution to reports.