Half of Chicago teachers skip school

By Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas and Hannah Leone
Chicago Tribune/TNS

CHICAGO - More than half of Chicago Public Schools teachers who were expected to return to schools Monday did not show up, CEO Janice Jackson said.

Her comments came at a news conference Tuesday, days after the Chicago Teachers Union said some of its members would not report to schools because of ongoing concerns about adequate COVID-19 safeguards.

Overall, 62 percent of staff members showed up Monday, including seven out of 10 paraprofessionals, Jackson said. But for teachers, just under 50 percent reported to work. About 5,800 staff members were expected to work in person starting Monday, with the first students due to return for in-person classes on Jan. 11.

She didn’t clarify what consequences staff members might face for failing to show up for work in person, but said they would be handled on a school-by-school and case-by-case basis and that the district will follow its progressive discipline policy.

She spoke shortly after the head of the union representing principals aimed another broadside at CPS’s decision to resume in-person instruction, likening the actions of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school officials to those of a petulant child.

“The biggest obstacle to reopening is the management of CPS because they failed to meet the standard set by teachers and principals for our support of a reopening plan,” Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said during an early morning news conference.

“If you tell your child that he can’t play outside until he cleans his room, but the child keeps his room a mess, who is the biggest obstacle to him playing outside?” he continued. “The mayor and CEO are like that child, whining about us setting standards for opening schools, rather than accepting responsibility for their failure to meet those standards.”

He described as a lack of transparency by the school district, a history of deceptive practices that have undercut trust, a refusal to hear from stakeholders while creating a reopening plan while spinning “its message” to the media.

He also issued a challenge to the district’s CEO, Janice Jackson. LaRaviere noted that Jackson has touted modeling that shows the district will have enough teachers returning to in-person instruction for the number of students who plan to do the same.

Asked time and again to see the models, school officials have not provided the information even after the union submitted Freedom of Information Act requests. After several requests were denied, LaRaviere said he was finally given district-wide staffing levels that do nothing to address whether an individual school will have enough teachers.

“I would love for them to prove me wrong, all they have to do is release the models,” he said. “Would you trust your life and your children’s lives with people who would be that deceptive?”

LaRaviere’s comments came a day after some teachers and administrators were expected to return to their classrooms.

Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said it held discussions with about 2,400 rank-and-file members in a first wave Monday night and about half indicated they had not shown up on what was to be their first day of in-person instruction since March. Of those who did return, 69% felt conditions were not adequate.

In classrooms of about 1,000 or 1,200 square feet, some members said they found air purifiers meant to clean rooms half that size. “I do believe that the district’s claims about safety lack credibility,” he said.

A man walks to the front doors and waits to be let in at Vaughn Occupational High School on Jan. 4, 2021, in Chicago, Il.