With most con­duct­ing some classes in-per­son, teach­ers, par­ents con­front the un­cer­tainty

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

The Cole­man fam­ily has a plan for af­ter­school pick­ups this fall.

Al­raynita Cole­man will drive from her South Shore home to De La Salle In­sti­tute in Bronzevill­e with a change of clothes for her son, Alexan­dre’. He’ll im­me­di­ately change clothes in the mini­van’s third row and spray Lysol on him­self — his 51-year-old mother, a heart at­tack sur­vivor with my­ocardi­tis, is at high-risk for COVID-19.

“I said a bold prayer this morn­ing,” Cole­man said Thurs­day, the day of her son’s ju­nior year ori­en­ta­tion at the Catholic high school. “I just need to teach more preven­tion, to be more proac­tive about what’s go­ing on.”

Mon­day and Tues­day mark the start of the school year for many Arch­dio­cese of Chicago Catholic schools. Some al­ready have started.

While Chicago Pub­lic Schools and some sub­ur­ban dis­tricts will start the year fully on­line, most Catholic Schools will meet in per­son. Supt. Jim Rigg this month said the arch­dio­cese be­lieves it’s “in the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren and our mis­sion.”

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

Hun­dreds of teach­ers are de­mand­ing the arch­dio­cese start all schools fully re­mote, and some par­ents are pulling their chil­dren from Catholic schools in fa­vor of CPS. Other par­ents, find­ing so­lace in strict health pro­to­cols and prayer, are send­ing stu­dents back into the class­room.

Weigh­ing the op­tions

De La Salle’s hy­brid model puts 16-yearold Alexan­dre’ in the build­ing twice a week with about 300 other stu­dents. They com­plete daily symp­tom screen­ing sur­veys and walk through tem­per­a­ture scan­ners be­fore en­ter­ing the build­ing.

Mean­while, his twin sis­ter Al­le­gra will start her ju­nior year fully on­line at Lane Tech Col­lege Prep High School in CPS.

“I’ve been ex­cited for my brother,” Al­le­gra said. “But I’m kind of jeal­ous be­cause he’s able to go [back to school].”

Alexan­dre’ has some friends in the other hy­brid group, he said, so he won’t see them at school. So­cially, the sep­a­ra­tion is “weird,” he said, but aca­dem­i­cally, it helps min­i­mize dis­trac­tions.

“At least I get to be in school and have the op­por­tu­nity to talk with teach­ers and in­ter­act with them,” Alexan­dre’ said. “I feel very lit­tle ner­vous­ness.”

In west sub­ur­ban River­side, Maya Schultz, 46, will send her sev­enth- and eighth-grade chil­dren to St. Mary School, which be­gins Mon­day. Schultz, who said she was in­volved in de­vel­op­ing the school’s re­open­ing plan, is com­fort­able, know­ing St. Mary can switch to re­mote learn­ing if needed.

Rachael Fer­rell’s two youngest chil­dren were to at­tend kinder­garten and fourth grade at North­side Catholic Academy in Edge­wa­ter this fall. Fer­rell, 44, of Rogers Park, said she se­lected the fully on­line op­tion for her fourth grader and opted to de­lay her daugh­ter’s kinder­garten for a year be­cause she was un­com­fort­able send­ing them in-per­son.

Now, frus­trated with the arch­dio­cese’s re­sponse to teach­ers, Fer­rell said she will pull her son from North­side and en­roll him in­stead at Wa­ters Ele­men­tary School, a Lin­coln Square CPS school.

“It wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion,” said Fer­rell, who’s had chil­dren at North­side since 2009. “I don’t want to con­trib­ute money to the arch­dio­cese’s plan.”

Teacher trep­i­da­tions

Many Catholic teach­ers are wor­ried about lack­ing space to prop­erly dis­tance desks and keep­ing stu­dents safe when they re­move masks to eat lunch. A mid­dle school teacher at a Chicago Catholic school said teach­ers will spend more time “polic­ing” health guidelines than ed­u­cat­ing.

Lau­ren Welsh, a sixth-grade lan­guage arts teacher at Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion-St. Joseph School on the Near North Side, said at a Thurs­day press con­fer­ence that asymp­to­matic car­ri­ers make in-per­son learn­ing “in­her­ently danger­ous.”

“My big­gest con­cern is not know­ing who or what is safe,” Welsh said. “Even with the most pre­cau­tions pos­si­ble, how do we fully pro­tect against asymp­to­matic car­ri­ers?”

The arch­dio­cese re­leased a state­ment later Thurs­day, say­ing its re­open­ing plan “places the health and safety of our stu­dents, teach­ers and em­ploy­ees above all else,” and lead­ers will con­tinue to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion and ad­just ac­cord­ingly.

Some schools in the arch­dio­cese will be­gin the year fully on­line. St. Fran­cis de Sales High School, 10155 S. Ewing Ave., will start the year with 10 weeks of on­line learn­ing, said Prin­ci­pal Roni Fa­cen.

A sub­ur­ban Catholic school­teacher who asked to re­main anony­mous be­cause she fears los­ing her job said she can’t af­ford to quit be­cause her fam­ily re­lies on her job for health ben­e­fits and in­come.

“I have to work,” she said. “I have to pray to God that I don’t get sick. I have asthma, and I have to take care of my sick mother.”


Alexan­dre’ Cole­man (left), a in­com­ing ju­nior at De La Salle In­sti­tute, sits with his mom, Al­raynita Cole­man, and his twin sis­ter Al­le­gra Cole­man, an in­com­ing ju­nior at Lane Tech Col­lege Prep High School. De La Salle, a Catholic school, will hold hy­brid classes start­ing Mon­day.

Lau­ren Welsh

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