FedEx drop boxes have been overflowing with at-home test kits for students looking to ensure they're healthy before heading back to school after the holiday. But even with a mountain of swabs to test, CPS CEO Pedro Martínez said that is just a fraction, barely 25%, of the 150,000 kits the district sent home.
"At least for us, the fact that they're in the most vulnerable communities," Martínez said. "It's going to give us, frankly, a good indicator of where cases are at. It's a really good start."
A "really good start" is hardly reassuring for some parents and teachers as cases continue to set new records heading into the third year of the pandemic.
"My daughter had a class where there wasn't a teacher or a sub and the kids didn't really know what to do," said CPS parent Cassie Cresswell. "That was already happening."
"I don't think it's safe. I don't think it's safe right now with so many people that's getting the virus," said Isaiah Thompson, who teaches at James Madison Elementary School.
The teacher's 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.
Now the union is demanding CPS either ensures every student tests negative before returning to in-person learning, with CPS providing the tests, or implements a two-week occupational pause.
"As we see issues we will treat them at the classroom level," Martínez said, "if we see risk of transmission, even before contact tracing begins, we will transfer that close to remote."
School executives said the schools are being deep-cleaned and the district has bought more than 2 million masks. The district has again promised to increase testing, but concedes that classroom disruptions from COVID-19 are likely inevitable.