‘BOLD PRAYER’ AS CATHOLIC SCHOOLS BEGIN
With most conducting some classes in-person, teachers, parents confront the uncertainty
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.”
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.