Chicago Public Schools responds after parents protest near Mayor Lori Lightfoot's home

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools has responded after parents rallied outside Mayor Lori Lightfoot's home Monday night.

The parents want remote learning to be an option. The parents said the classrooms are overcrowded, and thousands of kids have been sent home to quarantine only to find they have no access to remote learning. They want the mayor to make changes.

"We want a remote option," said Cortney Ritsema, co-organizer of the protest. "We're not comfortable sending them in person so we've been begging CPS for a remote option."

The district responded with a statement saying in part, "The district's contact tracing operation is working around the clock to support schools and help families navigate instances of exposure...We have given principals the authority to flip classes to remote learning while a full case investigation is being completed.....We thank parents for their patience and the district will continue to refine its contact tracing processes, increase staffing, and adapt to feedback from schools and parents."

Maria Estrada pulled her 12- and 9-year-old from CPS after the older was exposed to a classmate with COVID on the first day of school. Neither child has been vaccinated.

"Have they had better planning and put the CARES funds to use we wouldn't be in this situation," she said. "Why is testing rolling out so late? Do they want to have a superspreader event?"

RELATED: CPS COVID cases: CTU criticizes Lightfoot for 'deplorable lack of transparency and misinformation'

As part of their response, CPS officials also said the district has been erring on the side of caution when determining how many students to quarantine. That's why so many are being sent home.

CPS also said they are working on hiring 15 more contact tracers to help handle the case load.

Full CPS statement:
The district's contract tracing operation is working around the clock to support schools and help families navigate instances of exposure to COVID-19. As part of our processes, we have given principals the authority to flip classes to remote learning while a full case investigation is being completed by the CPS Contact Tracing Team as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a timely manner. Contact tracing can be complicated with individual circumstances differing in each scenario, which is why the district's approach includes school-level actions in partnership with the contact tracing team. We thank parents for their patience and the district will continue to refine its contact tracing processes, increase staffing, and adapt to feedback from schools and parents in order to be as communicative and helpful as possible."

Information on contact tracing/quarantine:
- The district is currently working on hiring an additional 15 contact tracing team members and diverting other team members to support contact tracing efforts.

- Once the district receives a notification of a positive COVID-19 case, an investigation begins. However, that requires a conversation with the impacted individual, and confirming the positive test. Not all individuals answer inquiries which can, at times, prolong the contact tracing process.

- In anticipation of this, we authorized principals to implement a 'flip to remote' when necessary while an investigation remains ongoing.

- Additionally, the district has been erring on the side of caution when determining how many students to quarantine. Most large-scale quarantine measures have been temporary actions while the case is under investigation. Hundreds of students being quarantined at one school does not mean that one student had physical, close contact with hundreds of students.

- For example: A student was in a large room with many students, such as a gym or lunch room, but it is not possible to determine who exactly the student was physically close to. This could be because we haven't been able to get the student on the phone for an interview, or because the student doesn't remember with 100 percent complete certainty who they sat or interacted with for more than 15 minutes. In those cases, schools have been flipping the large group of students out of an abundance of caution as a first step, then going back and identifying individuals more closely to the extent possible, and alerting those who are fully vaccinated that they are free to return to school.

The original quarantine number is the number reflected on the tracker. When evaluating the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in our schools, we have not seen scenarios of great concern. We understand that seeing large numbers of students quarantined may seem concerning to families - and certainly disruptive from an academic standpoint - but the important thing is that 1) schools are following the protocols; 2) evidence of in-school transmission of of COVID-19 remains low; and 3) quarantining close contacts is an important measure.


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