‘What parents want…what the science supports': Is Chicago Mayor Lightfoot right to urge schools reopen?

NBC News

Fact Box

  • On January 10, 2022, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said “The best, safest place for kids to be is in school. Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. [...] That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.” in response to Chicago Public Schools closure.
  • The Chicago Teachers Union proposed returning to classrooms on January 18, 2022, provided KN95 masks are given to both staff and students, and remote learning is supported if the city reaches a certain COVID-19 positivity rate. 
  • Chicago’s COVID-19 cases are up 16% at a daily 5,260 average, however, hospitalizations are down by 16% as of January 10, 2022. 
  • With Omicron cases surging statewide in January, 1,600 schools announced shutting down in-person learning for a day or more. Schools in New Jersey, Ohio, and Wisconsin opted for virtual learning for two weeks while Rhode Island and New York went ahead with in-person learning. 
  • As of January 10, 2022, 61.7% of eligible persons are vaccinated with 68.4% with one dose in the state of Chicago.

Curtice (Yes) 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is on solid footing to urge public schools in Chicago to be open for in-person learning. Chicago area parents, who have the best interests of their own kids at heart, agree their children should be in school. Yet, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) seems to care little about children's education.

There are some basic facts the CTU seems very willing to avoid. First, school-aged children have been at low risk for contracting, spreading, or certainly dying from COVID throughout the pandemic. The Omicron variant symptoms are relatively mild, especially in healthy individuals.

Second, although there has been an increase in the hospitalization of children with the Omicron variant, health officials note that many kids are not in the hospital because of COVID-19 but are there for other treatments, like broken bones or other ailments and only incidentally testing positive for COVID. Third, per Mayor Lightfoot, only 15% of the kids in Chicago hospitals have COVID, while the other 85% have other illnesses.

This does not even account for the poor academic learning, negative behavior, and mental health issues resultant from remote learning due to COVID-19 school shutdowns. Some studies have shown that as remote learning was prolonged, a drop in overall academic performance intensified. The remote learning and isolation have created mental health issues among the school-aged student community that could linger for years. Further, both academic performance and mental health issues among minority and low-income communities have been exacerbated by remote learning.

Presumably, all Chicago teachers are vaccinated and can wear masks, just as they can do when they go shopping or out to dinner or a show. It's time for all children to be back in school, not at home and not doing remote learning.

Siam (No)

Chicago Mayor Lightfoot is urging the teachers union to reopen the schools. For much of last year, the Mayor sided with the Teachers Union, but now she demands teachers go back to school, citing how many parents support her. Lightfoot claims that COVID cases in children are minuscule, and they are safe to attend in-class studies. But there are other reasons why schools in Chicago cannot open. 

First, the COVID pandemic has taken a toll on education. Schools face staff shortages, including substitutes and bus drivers, as the Omicron and Delta virus have led to severe disruptions in the class, causing infections among children and even children teachers. And while the children may develop minor symptoms, the adult teachers are at risk for developing severe conditions, depending on their comorbidity and overall health. With the quarantine of teachers, there is no other staff available to teach. 

Because of this, Chicago schools are severely under-sourced and overcrowded, a recipe for rapid transmission of the virus. During the covid pandemic, the teacher’s job was to enforce masks and disinfect all the surfaces in the classroom. Additionally, teachers are responsible for notifying healthcare workers if any child has symptoms—all this has taken time away from the actual teaching.

Working conditions in Chicago schools are also abysmal, with a constant underlining threat of violence coming from both students and their parents. Finally, teachers have been quitting the profession in masses because of poor pay and lack of adequate testing throughout this pandemic. Until the working conditions in schools are improved, Mayor Lightfoot can rest assured only virtual teaching will be available to the students.

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