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