Chicago Teachers Union calls for remote learning in fall amid rising youth COVID-19 cases

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It remains unclear if Chicago Public Schools students will return to classrooms this fall, but the city's teachers union says schools are not ready to safely resume in-person learning.

The Chicago Teachers Union is calling for remote learning in the fall amid concerns over the upcoming school year.

"There is simply no way to guarantee safety for in-school learning during an out-of-control pandemic - and that means we must revert to remote learning until the spread of this virus is contained," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.

Sharkey kicked off a virtual press conference Thursday, which included teachers and staff from schools around the city. There was agreement that without a clear reopening plan in place, there isn't enough time to prepare.

"I love my students and if it were up to me, I would return in the fall. But it's not up to me, it's up to the virus," said Ariam Abraham, a teacher at Simeon High School.

The teachers union's new report, "Same Storm, Different Boats: The Safe and Equitable Conditions for Reopening CPS in 2020-21," argues that "the essential features of in-person learning are impossible under the terms of strict social distancing."

The report comes as Chicago suffers a rise in COVID-19 cases, with close to 200 new patients reported a day.

RELATED: Mayor Lori Lightfoot warns city could go back to Phase 3 if coronavirus uptick continues

Since June 15, people age 18-29 make up 30% of the new COVID-19 cases, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. In the last month, the number of cases in that age group has jumped 29%.

While Mayor Lightfoot has resisted rushing into a decision, the teacher's union wants the school district to make a move immediately.

They want CPS to require charter schools to follow its guidelines as well, as many plan to restart in-person learning next month.

McKinley Park's Namaste Charter School already conducted a soft-launch of in-person learning during the summer session.

"It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to screen students in the morning, and that is only at 17% enrollment," said Myrna Romo, operations manager at Namaste Charter School. "Our classrooms are not big enough to accommodate even students within CDC guidelines."

But what do parents think?

Public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand conducted a survey of over 1,300 CPS parents.

"Nobody wants remote learning, but parents are based in reality and they want the health and safety of their children forefront," said Jennie Biggs, of Raise Your Hand. "At this moment, that might mean remote learning."

CPS, however, does not appear prepared to make a call just yet, saying in part that "a decision on the potential for in-person instruction will not be made until closer to the school year when we can fully assess the public health situation at that time."

The district is expected to release what they say is a preliminary framework about what the new school year will look like as early as Friday. But district officials said they'll be looking for feedback from students, parents and staff before any final decisions are made.

"Chicago Public Schools needs time," said CTU vice president Stacy Davis Gates. "Our mayor needs time to figure out how to coordinate resources effectively to guarantee the safest possible return into brick-and-mortar community."

Read the full CPS statement below:

"The health and safety of our students and staff is paramount, and our planning for the fall will be guided by the best available data and guidance from state and local health officials. We know that families and staff are eager to learn more about the coming school year, and we appreciate that there are a range of needs and views that are valid and must be considered. A preliminary framework for the new school year will be introduced this week to gain feedback from students, parents and staff, but a decision on the potential for in-person instruction will not be made until closer to the school year when we can fully assess the public health situation at that time. We are speaking regularly with union leadership as we work to develop the strongest possible plans for the fall, and we will continue to engage a variety of stakeholders to ensure our plans best meet their needs."
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