CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools parents spoke out against the district’s reopening plan Wednesday morning in front of City Hall and planned to present a bundle of demands to Mayor Lori Lightfoot before the Board of Education meeting.
Raise Your Hand, who started an online petition outlining what it calls its “TLC demands” — short for trust, learning and care — wants to be brought to the table as CPS officials proceed with the next phase of their reopening plan on Monday. That is when kindergarten through fifth graders who opted for in-person learning will return to classrooms, with sixth- through eighth graders returning on March 8.
That’s the schedule to which CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union agreed following a protracted fight over reopening schools that led to several delays and brought the district to a brink of a second teachers strike in less than a year and a half. But some parents both for and against reopening have said they felt their own perspectives have been lost in the talks, which will now turn to when high schools will reopen.
“These are a list of demands that have been going on well before COVID-19, but this crisis has definitely have definitely opened all of the equity gaps,” Natasha Erskine, an organizer with Raise Your Hand, said during the press conference.
The group was denied entry past the lobby of City Hall — which one education advocate quickly condemned as a double standard.
“Right, but she wants the school buildings open,” Rosemary Vega said after a male staffer told her she can’t go further. “So what kind of hypocrisy is that? You can’t have a city building closed and you want the city schools open.”
Nonetheless, the city employee promised Lightfoot would see the demands.
After delivering their demands to the mayor, the group marched to CPS headquarters to host a “teach-in” at parent-run tables outside as Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting was due to commence.
The group is calling for a renewed urgency in improving remote learning because most students still be receiving lessons online, at least part-time. It wants a focus on mental health and social-emotional needs, as well as improved technology and as much as a $100-per-month stipend for families who are spending more on internet service because the district-provided hotspots can be unreliable.
Sponsoring the demands were the CTU and nine community groups, the press release said. More than 300 people have signed the petition as of early Wednesday.
During the press conference, parents and students alike expressed disappointment with feeling ignored by the district. Chinella Miller, a CPS parent, said city officials have a long way to go to earn back her trust.
“CPS failed our students before the pandemic, so there’s no reason for us to believe you when you say that you care about our children,” Miller said. “You simply don’t.”
One student, Nathan Davis Elementary School eighth grader Dayana Martinez, offered suggestions to improve student wellbeing including full “mental health” days, healing circles and virtual spaces for teachers and families.
“The transition to remote learning has been the safest option we can think of, for education and well-being of students,” the student said. “However, our education is not being prioritized by CPS and Lori Lightfoot.”