Letter From The Editor: On The CPS Reopening Plan

Letter From The Editor: On The CPS Reopening Plan

Written by:
Lillie Therieau
Jan 20, 2021

Dear Chicago parents, students, teachers, and administrators, 

I am a proud Chicago Public Schools alumna. I went to Blaine Elementary School, and graduated from Lane Tech High School. As such, I am a dogged defender of public education and fully funding public schools. Today, I work for IPaintMyMind because of my time in art programs in CPS, and because I know first-hand how powerful public school arts education can be. Without the encouragement of my art teachers, and the robust arts curriculum I had access to, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I credit my time in CPS with shaping my character, curiosity, and empathy. 

And as a CPS alumna and as an employee of a nonprofit that serves CPS teachers, I am extremely concerned about what is happening today to CPS teachers through this botched and unsafe Reopening Plan.

Throughout this pandemic, we have seen people in “Essential” jobs being treated like heroes and martyrs. This is undeniably what has happened to CPS teachers. As a society, we’ve decided that being a teacher is some sort of moral or philosophical position, and not a job. This re-casting of the role of a teacher seems to imply that a teacher should be fine with struggle, financial duress, and limited resources because they should simply love what they do so much that they don’t care about their material reality. It’s the argument that is used when teachers agitate for better pay and better benefits. 

And it is the argument being used now to beat back teachers fearing for their lives and the lives of their families during Covid-19. It’s the argument that allows CPS and the city to cry “Equity!” when what’s really happening is the appeasement of wealthy donors, and CPS scrambling to make back pandemic losses at all costs and at the expense of educators across the city. If CPS truly cared about “Equity” it would revamp its skewed funding model that perpetuates educational segregation, and would have done it a long time ago. 

Being a teacher is a job, and it’s a hard one. I know CPS educators who are on Zoom for 8-10 hours a day. Some teachers have to instruct for a full day of virtual learning while also helping their own children with virtual class and homework. Educators still pay for materials out of pocket, but now is that they may have to drive around hand-delivering the materials. CPS teachers still serve as confidantes and support systems for struggling students, but now have to do so through the mediation of a screen and in trickier virtual situations where students may feel less safe and able to share. 

CPS teachers have already died from Covid-19. Many are already sick from Covid cases caught in the first full week of partial in-person instruction. We can’t pretend teachers are heroes when we treat them with such disposability. 

 

As a former CPS student myself, I know that many school windows do not open at all. Classrooms are stuffy and have ancient ventilation systems. Bathrooms are frequently out of order, leaking, or lacking water. Schools are packed to the brim with students, and even with a partial reopening, too many people would be inside the narrow hallways and tiny classrooms of these aging CPS school buildings. Moreover, the lack of school nurses and public health infrastructure in CPS schools can only lead to disaster. 

Without a major rehab of almost all CPS school buildings, reopening at this point is unsafe. No teachers are vaccinated, and many fall into high-risk categories. Virtual learning isn’t ideal, but teachers have been making it work for the whole school year so far, pouring their hearts and souls into these virtual classrooms. With such a heroic effort being made, and so close to the finish line, why stop now? Why endanger the lives of thousands of CPS teachers when they will be provided vaccines in the coming months? 

CPS must postpone this hastily slapped together reopening plan. Students, teachers, activists, politicians, and regular Chicagoans all over the city are demanding the same thing. 

IPaintMyMind stands with teachers, and we believe that their health is a priority. We have pledged to meet the teachers and students that we serve where they are, and to address their new needs in the virtual learning context. We will continue to do this as long as it’s necessary. 

Over 4,000 Americans are dying everyday. We must come together to protect our teachers, students, and school staff from unnecessary exposure to Covid-19. We must delay the reopening of CPS schools and end the practice of cruelly locking out CPS teachers who refuse to show up for in-person instruction. Otherwise, we risk jeopardizing the strength, diversity, and success of our public schools. 

Sincerely, 

Lillie Therieau 

IPMM Editor and Content Strategist 

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Written by:
Lillie Therieau
Jan 20, 2021

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