Too early to tell whether CPS can safely re­open in-class­room in­struc­tion this fall, Dun­can says

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND NADER ISSA Staff Re­porters

For­mer U.S. Education Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can said Wed­nes­day it’s “too early to tell” whether the Chicago Pub­lic Schools can safely re­open this fall to in-class­room learn­ing.

It all de­pends on whether Chicago adults be­have re­spon­si­bly or reck­lessly this sum­mer to pre­vent a surge in coro­n­avirus cases that mir­rors what’s hap­pen­ing in nearly two dozen other states.

“We, as a coun­try, haven’t taken the hard steps we need to open schools and to make things safe,” said Dun­can, who spent more than seven years as CPS’ chief ex­ec­u­tive.

“What we as a coun­try are will­ing to do — what small sac­ri­fices we’re will­ing to make so our chil­dren can safely re­turn to school this fall — that’s up to us. Schools sys­tems can’t do this by them­selves. They don’t live in a bub­ble.” Those sac­ri­fices?

“Wear a mask. Don’t hang out at the beaches. Don’t go to bars. Don’t go eat in­doors at restau­rants,” he said.

Dun­can said he’s tired of hear­ing peo­ple say they care about kids, then forge ahead with the same self­ish and reck­less be­hav­ior that will make it im­pos­si­ble for stu­dents who have been out of their class­rooms for months to re­turn to school this fall.

Light­foot blasts pres­sure from Trump

Mayor Lori Light­foot told the Chicago Sun-Times in early May that she was de­ter­mined to re­open CPS on time this fall be­cause “stu­dents need their teach­ers.” She later back­tracked, say­ing CPS would only open if health cir­cum­stances al­lowed.

On Wed­nes­day, the mayor ridiculed this week’s de­ci­sion by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Education Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos to ratchet up the pres­sure on local dis­tricts to fully open schools and not al­low a hy­brid of in-class­room and re­mote learn­ing.

“Mak­ing those kinds of de­ci­sions has to lie with the local school dis­tricts be­cause we and they are the ones that know what’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing in local cir­cum­stances,” Light­foot said. “Mak­ing some broad de­ci­sion at the fed­eral level and ig­nor­ing the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of the lo­cal­ity where they are in the arc of their virus, what their plans are, elim­i­nat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity for some kind of a hy­brid model — that doesn’t make any sense.”

Light­foot said her over­ar­ch­ing goal is to “do what is in the best in­ter­est of our chil­dren.” That’s “got to be dic­tated by the pub­lic health guid­ance,” she said.

CPS of­fi­cials have said they plan to re­lease a draft of their guid­ance for the fall in the coming weeks, then hold com­mu­nity meet­ings to hear in­put. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state education of­fi­cials have al­ready paved the way for schools to re­open as long as spe­cific safety mea­sures are in place.

Union: Ma­jor ques­tions re­main

Stacy Davis Gates, the vice pres­i­dent of the Chicago Teach­ers Union, said Wed­nes­day that talks with CPS and the city over the district’s fall plan are “not pro­duc­tive enough.”

“It feels very sim­i­lar to the talks we were hav­ing in July 2019,” Davis Gates said, ref­er­enc­ing the un­fruit­ful and slow lead-up to the union’s even­tual strike. “And that makes me anx­ious. I do not see enough ur­gency over cre­at­ing plans that re­flect the on-the-ground real­i­ties that work­ers and stu­dents will en­counter if they re­turn to school build­ings.”

Davis Gates said she finds it “hard to be­lieve” that schools will be ready in time for the fall.

“Very ba­sic ques­tions around safety, around health, have yet to be an­swered,” she said. “And it’s July. So we’re ner­vous.”

SUN-TIMES FILE

Then-CPS CEO Arne Dun­can ap­pears at Byrne El­e­men­tary School in 2003.

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