CTU rallies outside City Hall against reopening schools amid pandemic, amps up attacks on Lightfoot, CPS
As the debate heats up nationwide over the reopening of schools, Chicago teachers, activists and families rallied outside City Hall Monday to oppose a planned return to classrooms when Chicago Public Schools classes resume next month.
The protests are part of similar demonstrations in several cities across the nation and come just days before CPS parents are being asked to tell the district whether their children will go back to in-person learning or continue trying to learn from home.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS officials have proposed a return to schools that would put most students in classrooms two days a week and school staff, including teachers, four days a week.
The most vocal leader in the push to keep school buildings closed is the Chicago Teachers Union, which has said it believes in-person instruction is not safe for teachers or students as COVID-19 continues to spread.
The union has gone as far as suggesting a potential repeat of last fall’s strike could be used as a last resort if staff are forced to return to classrooms. Mirroring the lead-up to last year’s walkout, the CTU is renewing its rivalry with Lightfoot by ramping up its public attacks on the mayor, with its harshest criticisms coming Monday.
“It is failed leadership to believe that we can bring hundreds of thousands of people back into school communities and not suffer loss and sickness,” said the union’s vice president, Stacy Davis Gates, an outspoken and frequent critic of Lightfoot.
“Instead of pretending as if COVID-19 is not as dangerous and deadly as it is, we should be figuring out how to educate children virtually,” she said. “We all concede it’s not ideal, so now we need to figure out how to make it work as best as we can.”
Davis Gates said “no” when asked whether there was anything Lightfoot or CPS could do in the next month to get teachers to agree to go back into schools Sept. 8, the start of the next school year.
At a press conference outside union headquarters on the Near West Side, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Lightfoot “does not have the guts to close the schools,” adding another direct attack on the mayor.
“They’re putting it on us to close the schools,” Sharkey said. “That’s what we feel like is happening.”
Lightfoot and CPS have said a final decision whether to open schools won’t be made until late August and will be based on health conditions at the time.
Asked to respond to the CTU’s renewed attacks Monday, the mayor’s office said in a statement that “we have made a firm commitment to base our policies and initiatives on the science and data of this disease, and to communicate decisions to our stakeholders in an open and transparent way.
“This is the same approach that CPS has taken all along in engaging all the relevant stakeholders in the school community. The data will drive this decision,” the statement read.
Andrea Parker, an English Language Arts teacher at Fulton Elementary in Englewood, said at the news conference that she loves her students and wants to see them, but she isn’t willing to put herself or the kids at risk.
“Sending our students to school in a hybrid model is putting our children and all our staff members in harm’s way. It is very dangerous,” Parker said.
Parker added that she doesn’t believe a return to an unusual school setting will benefit students’ emotional and social health the way some might think.
“I have to tell my students they can’t hug each other,” she said. “They can’t be too close to each other. They can’t share pencils . . . . It’s not going to be what you think it is.”
CPS has said precautions will be put in place at schools, such as temperature and health checks, social distancing and universal masking.
Parents at a separate Logan Square rally Monday said those protections aren’t enough.
Mónica Espinoza is an education organizer with Logan Square Neighborhood Association and a mother of four, two of which attend CPS schools and the youngest entering pre-kindergarten.
Espinoza, who is planning to keep her children home this fall, said she wishes the district would have spent more time developing its remote learning plan so parents could have more confidence that it will offer a better learning experience than in the spring.
“Parents want to prepare for the future, for an education. We don’t want to be planning for a funeral for our children,” Espinoza said. “And I know it sounds harsh, but it’s the reality.”
“IT IS FAILED LEADERSHIP TO BELIEVE THAT WE CAN BRING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE BACK INTO SCHOOL COMMUNITIES AND NOT SUFFER LOSS AND SICKNESS.” STACY DAVIS GATES, CTU vice president
Nichols Farm and Orchard, part of the Wicker Park Farmers Market for two decades, was kicked out last week.
The Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce said Nichols Farms repeatedly violated COVID-19 protocol — not properly wearing masks, not having a rope to properly mark boundaries and not having a handwashing station.
But Todd Nichols, a family owner of the farm, blames their removal on a “spur-of-themoment decision” after three years of tension with market manager Alice Howe. And he expects the farm could lose $50,000 to $70,000 because of it.
The Wicker Park Farmers Market opened July 5 — later than usual, due to the pandemic. Vendors received COVID-19 guidelines beforehand, Howe said.
Many booths didn’t follow protocol perfectly the first week, said Pamela Maass, executive director of the chamber. Other vendors adjusted, but Maass said Nichols “stayed in non-compliance.”
Maass said Nichols Farm didn’t have proper hand-washing stations or rope barriers three different weeks. The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events inspected July 12 and found Nichols Farm in violation for not having rope barriers. Howe said Nichols Farm staff needed “constant reminders” to wear masks.
Nichols said the farm bought ropes July 16, the day they were notified of the violation, and sent them to the farmers market the following week. He added that the farm has had a hand-washing station at every market this season.
And, he said, the staffer running the Wicker Park booth is a stickler for masks.
“He’s probably one of the most mask-conscious people I know,” Nichols said. “He doesn’t take his mask off in hardly any situations.”
In 2018, Nichols said Howe asked his staff to move to a smaller spot from the one they’d had for nearly two decades.
The market added 20 vendors that year, Howe said, and the shift gave Nichols Farm space proportional to what they pay.
Nichols said he thinks the farm’s removal from the market is tied to an altercation between Howe and his staff July 26. A customer was touching produce — against market guidelines — and Nichols said his staff asked
Howe to intervene.
“The market manager got very upset with us,” Nichols said. “She said at the end of the market we weren’t coming back.”
Howe remembers the interaction differently. She said she already was near the stand when she started talking to the customer, who wasn’t a native English speaker.
Her comment about not returning came earlier that day, Howe said, when the manager of Nichols Farm’s booth was upset about another produce vendor setting up nearby.
“He told me he would not be returning,” Howe said. “There were already a few other issues with them, reminding them about masks and everything. I said, ‘I guess you don’t need to return, then.’ ”
Howe said she approached Nichols’ staff at the end of the day and was met with hostility.
Nichols Farm received an email from Howe July 28 saying they couldn’t return to the market because of “several years” of “incredibly difficult and disrespectful staff.”
Nichols demanded a “formal written statement” on the decision. Maass emailed the next day, detailing failure to comply with COVID-19 protocol on July 5, 12 and 19. The email said the removal decision was final this year.
Maass told the Sun-Times the board discussed the decision extensively.
“It’s not a personal vendetta that I have with the farm,” Howe said. “Just because people are difficult to work with doesn’t mean I hold a personal grudge against them and remove them unjustly.”
Nichols said he took to social media following the second email, wanting the public to have the chance to decide whether their removal was justified. He said he admits their stand violated different protocols, but the punishment seems “drastic.”
Nichols Farm will continue to make community-supported agriculture deliveries in the area, Nichols said.
WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee has invited the new postmaster general to appear at a hearing next month to examine operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service that are causing delays in mail deliveries across the country.
The plan imposed by Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser who took over the top job at the Postal Service in June, eliminates overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers and orders that mail be kept until the next day if postal distribution centers are running late.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the Oversight panel, said the Sept. 17 hearing will focus on “the need for ontime mail delivery during the ongoing pandemic and upcoming election,” which is expected to include a major expansion of mail-in ballots.
President Donald Trump has warned that allowing more people to vote by mail will result in a “CORRUPT ELECTION” that will “LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY,” even though there’s no evidence that will happen. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other top administration officials frequently vote absentee themselves.
Last week, Trump even floated on Twitter the prospect of delaying the Nov. 3 election — an idea lawmakers from both parties shot down.
Trump said Monday that the cashstrapped Postal Service is ill-equipped to add the expected influx of mail-in ballots to its responsibility to deliver mail and packages from the boom in internet shopping.
“I don’t think the post office is prepared for a thing like this,” Trump said at the White House.
Trump also has called the Postal Service “a joke” and said that package shipping rates should be at least four times higher for heavy users like Amazon. But shipping and packages are actually a top revenue generator for the Postal Service, and critics say Trump is merely looking to punish Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in retaliation for unflattering coverage in The Washington Post, which Bezos owns.
The Oversight committee intended to have the hearing with DeJoy this week, Maloney said, but was told that DeJoy could not attend because of a meeting of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors. DeJoy has confirmed the September session, she said.
Postal Service officials, bracing for steep losses from the nationwide shutdown caused by the virus, have warned they will run out of money by the end of September without help from Congress.
“The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume and a broken business model,” DeJoy said in a statement last week. “We are currently unable to balance our costs with available funding sources to fulfill both our universal service mission and other legal obligations. Because of this, the Postal Service has experienced over a decade of financial losses, with no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis.”
Bills approved by the Democratic-controlled House would set aside $25 billion to keep the mail flowing, but they remain stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Congress has approved a $10 billion line of credit for the Postal Service, but it remains unused amid restrictions imposed by the Trump administration.
Besides cutting overtime, the new plan halts late trips that are sometimes needed to ensure on-time delivery. If postal distribution centers are running late, “they will keep the mail for the next day,” Postal Service leaders say in a document obtained by The Associated Press. “One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that — temporarily — we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks,” another document says.
Teachers and activists gather outside City Hall on Monday for a rally and car caravan to protest CPS’ plan to partially reopen classrooms in the fall amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Protesters rally Monday outside City Hall.
After Nichols Farm and Orchard was told July 28 it no longer could sell at the Wicker Park Farmers Market, Nick Nichols showed up anyway on Sunday, parked next to the market and gave away a truckload of produce. The chamber of commerce said Nichols’ stand was removed due to violations of COVID-19 protocol.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has imposed a plan that eliminates overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers.