IN-PER­SON PROTEST

CTU ral­lies out­side City Hall against re­open­ing schools amid pan­demic, amps up at­tacks on Light­foot, CPS

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY NADER ISSA, EDUCATION RE­PORTER nissa@sun­times.com | @NaderDIssa

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.

AN­THONY VAZQUEZ/SUN-TIMES

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.

AN­THONY VAZQUEZ/SUN-TIMES

Pro­test­ers rally Mon­day out­side City Hall.

FACE­BOOK

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.

KIM WALKER/ELON UNIVER­SITY VIA AP, FILE

Post­mas­ter Gen­eral Louis DeJoy has im­posed a plan that eliminates over­time for hun­dreds of thou­sands of postal work­ers.

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