‘Ter­ri­fied’ Catholic school teach­ers call on arch­dio­cese to move classes fully on­line

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23

A group rep­re­sent­ing hun­dreds of teach­ers and par­ents with the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago Catholic Schools on Thurs­day called for all fall classes at the parochial school sys­tem to be held on­line.

“Now is the wrong time to gather hun­dreds of hu­man be­ings into en­closed spa­ces,” James Cahill, a his­tory and re­li­gion teacher at Wil­mette’s St. Fran­cis Xavier School, said at a news con­fer­ence out­side the arch­dio­cese’s down­town of­fices, at 835 N. Rush St.

“The de­ci­sion to do so bog­gles the mind, de­fies sci­ence and po­ten­tially en­dan­gers the lives of stu­dents, teach­ers, staff and all of our fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.”

In an email to fam­i­lies ear­lier this month, Catholic Schools Supt. Jim Rigg said the arch­dio­cese is start­ing the school year with full-time in-per­son learn­ing, say­ing it’s “in the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren and our mis­sion.”

Some arch­dio­cese schools have al­ready started classes while oth­ers have yet to open.

Cahill was joined by an­other teacher, a par­ent and mem­bers of Arise Chicago, an in­ter­faith work­ers’ rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, in de­mand­ing that Catholic schools have no in-per­son classes this fall and that teach­ers are con­sulted be­fore a new re­open­ing plan is crafted.

The “Arch Teach­ers for a Safe Re­turn” group, which rep­re­sents hun­dreds of teach­ers, is giv­ing the arch­dio­cese un­til Tues­day to re­spond.

Con­cerned teach­ers who have reached out to Arise Chicago said they can’t imag­ine teach­ing in per­son when they’re fear­ful of be­ing near stu­dents, said the Rev. C.J. Hawk­ing, Arise Chicago’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. One teacher de­scribed the thought of re­turn­ing to a phys­i­cal school build­ing as “men­tal trauma,” Hawk­ing said. “Teach­ers are ter­ri­fied and hurt­ing and an­gry,” she said.

The arch­dio­cese’s re­open­ing plan, up­dated July 30, re­quires every­one older than 2 to wear a mask in­doors and man­dates tem­per­a­ture checks be­fore stu­dents en­ter school build­ings. For Catholic school stu­dents whose par­ents are un­will­ing to send them to in-per­son classes, the arch­dio­cese is also of­fer­ing re­mote and on­line learn­ing.

But many of the arch­dio­cese’s teach­ers and par­ents would rather have every­one stay in­side their homes in­stead of that be­ing an op­tion for a few.

“My con­cern about my school and any schools is the abil­ity to truly fol­low the strong­est sci­en­tific guide­lines for the en­tire school day,” said Lau­ren Welsh, a sixth grade lan­guage arts teacher at Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion — St. Joseph School on the Near North Side.

“At the end of the day, how can any in­per­son learn­ing be safe un­til you have a base­line of test­ing?”

“Outbreaks are in­evitable,” Cahill said, point­ing to Notre Dame Uni­ver­sity, where there have been hun­dreds of pos­i­tive cases since stu­dents re­turned to cam­pus in early Au­gust.

Cahill, 31, said his great­est fear is that he would con­tract COVID-19, be asymp­to­matic and un­know­ingly spread the virus to his fam­ily, stu­dents, co-work­ers and oth­ers.

Catholic school teach­ers aren’t union­ized and can­not strike, but Cahill said the group is pre­pared to cre­ate a con­tin­gency plan if the arch­dio­cese doesn’t meet its demands, which are out­lined in a pe­ti­tion cir­cu­lated by Arise Chicago.

“I love my job. I love teach­ing,” Cahill said. “But at the end of the day, we care more about our stu­dents be­ing alive than about them be­ing present in the class­room with us.”

The arch­dio­cese serves about 70,000 stu­dents in about 200 schools in Cook and Lake coun­ties.

James Cahill, a teacher at St. Fran­cis Xavier in Wil­mette, speaks out­side the of­fices of the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago de­mand­ing that the arch­dio­cese go to fully re­mote learn­ing. TYLER LARIVIERE/SUN-TIMES

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