Opinion: For student and staff safety, close CPS


Tobias Straus

Student attendance has already declined in fear of COVID-19.

By Finley Williams and Tobias Straus

As officials in Oregon, New Mexico, Michigan and D.C. have closed K-12 schools and a growing list of Illinois colleges transition to online learning in response to the coronavirus; as film festivals, concerts, marathons and parades are met with cancellations; as Governor Pritzker institutes a temporary ban on public gatherings expected to draw more than 1,000 attendees; and as CPS enacts a districtwide moratorium on field trips, sports competitions and assemblies, Chicago Public Schools students are still reporting to class.

The irony here becomes even more stark when examined particularly at Lane: roughly 4,500 students and 350 staff members, according to Building Operations Manager Rene Luis, attend this school. Every day, a population more than four times larger than that banned by Pritzker convenes in a hotbed of germs and human contact. For a virus that spreads primarily through person-to-person contact and less so through contact with contaminated objects, this is a disastrous set-up.

Cancelling I-Days and I-Nights, after school tutoring and trips beyond the city limits are necessary and common sense measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, but they are largely useless when students are still exposed to one another for prolonged periods of time during the school day, and to countless strangers on their daily commutes.

As Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot said at yesterday’s press conference announcing the new guidelines, “For now, it’s clear no gathering takes priority over the health of any attendee.” Classes should not be an exception to this principle.

We acknowledge that media coverage of the virus has stoked considerable panic among US citizens, as evidenced by New York grocery stores implementing buying limits on some items because of residents stockpiling supplies, and this NBC News article appearing to serve as a shopping list for those under self-quarantine — but after cancelling all “non-essential” events and paring school operations down to their basics, temporary closures are the logical next step, and indeed the only truly effective one.

We will not claim, though, that this step, however necessary, is easy. School closures pose significant challenges to all students and can threaten learning progress, and the equity issues native to them are remarkable; those students who are food insecure or do not have easy access to WiFi, and parents who cannot care for their children during the day, will face incredible complications not unlike those present during last year’s CTU and SEIU strike.

It is true, also, that young students are not the most at risk for coronavirus contraction, but, as Will Foster writes for the Payton Paw Print, we must also protect our fellow Chicagoans with weak immune systems or elderly grandparents.

In the face of a pandemic, and for the ultimate good of the public health and the protection of Chicago’s students, sacrifices must be made. We must collectively participate in the actions required to slow this virus, such that public health authorities may better understand and consequently treat it.

We do not write to incite hysteria or panic, but rather to urge Mayor Lightfoot and CPS leadership to undertake all measures necessary for student health. The Warrior joins the Chicago Teachers Union and the Payton Paw Print in calling for Chicago’s schools to be closed.