PARENTS’ POLL POSITIONS
Slight majority want CPS schools to reopen in some form, survey finds
Slightly more than half of Chicago Public Schools parents want some type of in-person instruction in the fall, and the top concern for most parents in the coming months is keeping their children’s learning on track, according to a new poll released Tuesday by an education advocacy group.
But in a sign of the sharp divide of opinions on the critically important issue of health and learning, two out of every five parents said schools should remain fully closed, with nearly all parents surveyed saying they wanted schools to be better cleaned and disinfected.
The poll, which has a 3.8% margin of error, was commissioned by Stand for Children Illinois, an education advocacy group, and conducted by Tulchin Research from July 8 to July 14, in the week leading up to CPS’ fall reopening guidance released last Friday.
Mimi Rodman, Stand for Children Illinois’ executive director, said she views CPS’ plan as addressing parents’ concerns for the most part.
“The results that we found aligned generally with the framework that CPS put out in the sense that parents want some continuation of remote learning, and they want schools to be clean and safe,” Rodman said. “It’s going to be incumbent on CPS to address [cleaning and disinfection].
“It just reinforced to me how difficult these decisions are that are facing all of us.”
CPS’ “preliminary framework” released last week calls for two days of in-school learning for most students, with high school juniors and seniors remaining at home fulltime. The Chicago Teachers Union has strongly advocated for full remote learning, at least to start the school year, saying it doesn’t feel CPS has come up with a way to keep schools safe and address the health concerns of going back during a pandemic.
Asked about their preference for the fall, 40% of parents said schools should remain closed, while 35% said they should partially reopen and 19% thought learning should be fully in-classroom. A slim majority of Black parents and just less than half of Latino parents preferred at least a partial school reopening, while 47% of Latino parents and 42% of Black parents believe schools should remain entirely closed.
A total of 660 parents were polled, 264 of them Latino, 231 Black and 119 white. Preferences for white parents weren’t included.
The openness to at least a partial return for some parents could be explained by their thoughts about the state of the pandemic. While the majority of respondents, 59%, said the coronavirus is getting worse in the United States, most said they felt Chicago’s outbreak is either getting better or staying the same, and only 29% said they think it’s getting worse in the city.
When it came to parents’ chief concerns during the pandemic, 60% said maintaining their child’s level of education was a “very serious” worry, while 51% said their family or close friends getting sick was their biggest concern. Losing work or income, balancing the demands of a job with kids at home and challenges with their children learning from home all closely followed.
In all, 86% of parents said increased cleaning and disinfection of school buildings is “extremely important,” ranking that as their top health priority. Symptom screenings and temperature checks and mask use came next on the list of concerns.
Almost all parents said their children have missed socializing with their classmates, and three-quarters said their kids miss their teachers and after-school activities including sports.
Parents of all races felt the COVID-19 pandemic has had a larger impact on communities of color, with Black parents most likely to feel that way.
Stand for Children Illinois, the education advocacy group that commissioned the survey, declined to share crosstabs from the poll that would have shown the racial breakdown of each question’s responses. The survey was conducted through a combination of live phone interviews and online interviews of registered voters, all of whom are CPS parents.
The group that conducted the poll, Tulchin Research, is a Democratic political consulting firm and the pollster for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
Stand for Children has had connections to wealthy business and political interests. Former Gov. Bruce Rauner was involved with the nonprofit before his run for office in 2014, when the group lobbied at times against the CTU. Backers have included the Walton family, Gates family and Pritzker family.
Today, the group’s Political Action Committee has more than a half-million dollars on hand, according to state election records, and typically supports Democratic candidates in the state Legislature.
About eight months after the ouster of Cook County’s health care chief, officials said Tuesday they expect to name a couple of potential finalists for the open CEO position within the next “two to three weeks.”
“We’ve had second interviews with a number of candidates, we are evaluating the finalists, and we hope to suggest some finalists — meaning either one or two candidates — within the next two or three weeks possibly,” M. Hill Hammock, chair of the County Health Board of Directors, said during a Tuesday midyear budget hearing. “So, we’re close.”
The new CEO of the Cook County Health system will face a daunting job.
Projecting a $187 million shortfall for 2021, the county’s health arm faces some choppy fiscal waters ahead, as do many health care providers and municipalities.
Patient fee revenue is down, some projects, including the new Provident Hospital, are on pause until a new CEO is installed, and the system has cut 70 non-union positions to save $5 million. More workers could be laid off to save even more money next year, and many of those cuts are “permanent deletions,” said Andrea Gibson, the health system’s interim chief business officer.
“These next several months and the coming years will be difficult for the entire health care industry, and we are absolutely no exception,” Debra Carey, Cook County Health’s interim CEO said. “The fiscal year 2021 budget, and likely several budgets after this, will contain a host of difficult decisions — decisions that have to be made — to ensure that Cook County Health is available for the patients who rely on us.”
The county’s $2.8 billion health care system oversees Stroger and Provident hospitals as well as health care at Cook County Jail and other county sites. The health system also conducts a managed-care program called CountyCare.
Ultimately, the board of Cook County Health will choose the system’s new leader.
The last CEO, Dr. John Jay Shannon, was shown the door in November, when the board voted not to renew his contract, the first jolt in a shake-up that also includes the firings of Ekrete Akpan, the chief financial officer at the time, and Dr. Terry Mason, the former head of the county’s Department of Public Health.
In February, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle gained more control and oversight over Stroger Hospital and the rest of the county health system, including the power to appoint a member to the system’s governing board and giving the County Board power over the top health official’s salary and job description.
Hammock said he looks forward to “establishing new leadership” for the health system.
“They will need to reestablish a team of their own and that will be a challenge as well, but we think that’s the right thing to do at the right time,” Hammock said.
Students in a classroom at Brentano Elementary School.
Then-Cook County Health CEO Dr. John Jay Shannon, second from right, with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, and other county officials in 2015.