The Chicago Teachers Union’s effort to go remote across the district is rooted in racism. Asking members to force a work stoppage without acknowledging the critical state of our babies is wrong. It ignores the fact that large numbers of children suffered the last time academically, physically and emotionally. Remote learning hurt Black and brown children the most, especially those who were already struggling in school. Already, our children have lost an entire week of school—no learning, in-person or remote—to this foolishness. It’s time to give parents a refund of our tax money.
It is certainly true that there are Black families who want their children to learn remotely right now due to the Omicron-fueled spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations. All through winter break, the news, TV, social media and family text messages were bombarding me with news of increased deaths due to COVID and hospitalizations of fully vaccinated people. Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez publicly stated “CPS will have an increase in cases after the break,” so of course, parents have been scared and leery of sending their children back.
At the same time, there are Black families whose parents need their children’s schools to be open. We have to stop ignoring people who don’t have public platforms to speak up. I know a lot of parents who were praying last week that schools would not close. Not only do families need consistent, reliable routines, care and learning, but their children also need routine and an end to isolation.
COVID-19 Is Not Our Only Concern
COVID is not the only issue our children face right now, nor is it even the most pressing. In the Black community, there is a strong case to be made that preventing youth suicide among our children and teens is even more important. In 2019, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among young people of all races, and we know the pandemic has worsened mental health among young people.
Fighting to keep our young people alive and mentally healthy is a battle in the best of times. Black families face steep economic and cultural barriers when seeking culturally competent, effective mental health treatment. The pandemic has made it even harder. We also know that social isolation is a major factor associated with death by suicide and that being in school helps young people combat social isolation. For nearly two years, parents have done their best to pick up the slack schools left us. We all deserve compensation for this. We deserve a refund.
A Refund Could Pave the Way for New Solutions
When it comes to sending students to in-person school, the people who should make that call are parents. Parents should be able to do what is best for their family. Chicago Public Schools—and districts all over the country—must do a better job of listening to the folks on the ground. CPS and CTU have shown us they cannot negotiate a solution that allows parents to do whatever is best for their children. That’s why parents should get public money—a public refund—to put toward their children’s care and education.
In other parts of the country, parents will soon be getting state funds. On January 4, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced the creation of the “Open for Learning Benefit,” which will provide up to $7,000 in educational relief funds for income-eligible families whose schools close unexpectedly—even for just one day. Parents can use the money for state-approved child care, school-coordinated transportation, online tutoring, and yes, private school tuition.
For far too long, parents have had to suffer. The powerful forces inside City Hall and the Chicago Teachers Union continue to put money and political power ahead of the welfare of children. Now is the time for parents to organize and force both sides to put children first. Given how poorly public schools have supported us, CPS parents deserve a refund of our money.