Slight ma­jor­ity want CPS schools to re­open in some form, sur­vey finds

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY NADER ISSA, ED­U­CA­TION RE­PORTER nissa@sun­ | @NaderDIssa

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.

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