CPS students set to return to class despite parents' concerns over COVID safety plan

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools parents are concerned as students are set to return to classes Monday. Many say they have questions about the district's test to return policy.

A delay in delivery is resulting in at-home COVID tests, given out by the school district, being sent back to parents as inconclusive.

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CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Dr. Allison Arwady discuss plans for how CPS plans to handle COVID as students return from winter break.

Several parents say they have even received emails saying the tests were no longer valid because it was sitting in the deposit box for too long.

"Yesterday, I got the email that this may be the case, and today it was confirmed," said Janet Luszczky, a Chicago Public Schools parent. "It said unsatisfactory sample. Test could not be completed."

This comes after CPS sent home more than 150,000 at-home tests last month.

Right now, they don't know how many of them were delayed, but it's causing some parents to reconsider sending their kids to classes next week.

The company, Color, notified parents that their at-home COVID tests came back inconclusive, saying in an email, "Some of the COVID-19 samples collected this week were delayed in transit to the testing lab due to weather and holiday-related shipping issues. As a result, those tests could not be processed within the required 48-hour timeframe ..."

Last week, FedEx drop boxes were filled to capacity as the district set a hard deadline for kits to be returned by last Thursday so that students could be ready for classes by Monday morning.

The Chicago Teachers Union has routinely sounded the alarm since the start of the school year, saying the district has failed to live up to promises it made on testing students.

The union posted what appears to be a copy of that email to social media.

"Full disclosure, we went to Florida over the holiday. I wanted to make sure that he was not going to go back into school and get anybody sick if he had COVID," Luszczky added.

But, while Luszczky's 6th grade son is fully vaccinated, the email has her concerned about his peers.

"Seeing that email makes me nervous because that means somebody could be falling through the cracks that's not vaccinated," she said.

The lab is working with CPS to find other testing opportunities, according to the post.

"Color provides software and patient support services for Chicago Public School's large-scale testing program, which allows the district to bring their students, faculty, and staff back safely to the classroom. This week's challenges are the result of holiday-related shipping delays and in response, we have worked quickly and efficiently with our partners, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Chicago Public Schools, to support extended testing drop-off hours and additional testing hours on Thursday, December 30, as well as additional testing days next week." Color, CPS's testing vendor, said in a statement Sunday.

Despite the setback, the district is still going through with plans to start school Monday as the teacher's union now calls on parents, specifically at Park Manor Elementary, to keep their kids home.

"There is no way to know their child's COVID status, even as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot continues to insist that schools reopen January 3 during the nation's worst surge of the pandemic," the teacher's union said in a statement.

"The only question I have, 'Is it safe to return tomorrow?' I just want my kids to be okay," said Tracey Walker-Hines, a Chicago Public Schools parent and teacher.

Parents agree, but with such short notice, some plan to send their kids to school, hoping the district makes some changes fast.

RELATED: Teachers, parents raise concerns about COVID-19 spread as CPS outlines safety plan

"We know that the kids need to be in school for their emotional stability, but what emotional stability will they have if they are sick if COVID is running through the classrooms," Walker-Hines said.

School executives said that the schools were being deep-cleaned over the break, adding that the district also bought more than two million masks. The district has again promised to increase testing, but concedes that classroom disruptions from COVID-19 are likely inevitable.

The teacher's union will address these concerns during a press conference Monday at 7 a.m.
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