in school learning

As Parents, We’ve Sized up the Risks, and the Time to Send Kids to School Is Now

Seldom, if ever, has there been a time in American history when the kids were eager to return to school, while the teachers dreaded returning and even threatened to boycott. However, this upside-down reality is exactly the case in Chicago today. 

This morning, members of the Chicago City Council’s education committee are holding a hearing to hear Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Department of Public Health officials answer questions about the safety of the district’s reopening plan. Parents across the city are submitting testimony to express their perspectives and experiences. Here’s what I have to say.

When we are well past the pandemic, the effects of the pandemic educational gap will be catastrophic. By almost all accounts, e-learning has been a challenge for teachers, students and their parents. As my daughter’s pre-K teacher put it, “It’s only so much we can do during e-learning,” implying that the best education remains in-person. 

That is why, when the mayor announced an opportunity, not a mandate, for some of the kids of Chicago to return to in-person learning, my wife and I were cautiously optimistic. We filled out the surveys in support of our four CPS elementary students returning  to school. We remain hopeful that our two CPS high schoolers will soon get the opportunity as well.  

One of our high schoolers is a freshman. Thus far, he has totally been an e-learner for his high school tenure,  while many of his friends in Catholic schools are starting new chapters in their lives. They are meeting new friends and experiencing the type of high school experience that we hoped and expected for our son prior to the pandemic. 

We Know How to Mitigate the Spread

The bottom line is this: it  is not 2020, it’s 2021. We  are no longer ignorant about Covid-19 and unaware of how to mitigate its spread. We have a vaccine that scientists promise will put Covid more in our history books than on our medical charts.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lightfoot have taken a measured approach to reopening our schools, making it an option for parents, not a mandate.  They are having the schools cleaned and sanitized thoroughly.  They’ve put in place social distancing policies for everyone, temperature checks are required and no admittance will be given to anyone running a fever. 

All these measures make both my wife and I comfortable that our children will be safe and sound. I’m not simply referring to Covid, but I’m also referring to being safe from poverty and soundly positioned to be both contributors and benefactors of the world they’ll inherit in a short time, when they’re adults. 

The Longer We Let Kids Languish at Home, the More Tragedies to Come

The time to send our kids to school is now!  Every moment we let a student sleep away the day, logged into class with their camera off, we’re setting the stage for a tragedy years from now. That student could have been a technology genius, but when these months of disengagement and lost skills leads to he or she being unable to handle basic math, ultimately that leads to another dropout and, more than likely, another kid lost to the streets of Chicago.

Already, up to 3 million students across the country have disappeared from school during remote learning. Every day we wait, we lose more. 

The time to send our kids back to school is now, because our kids are losing ground every time someone hacks into a virtual class and disrupts it to the point no one learns. That’s yet another reason why large swaths of CPS students will lose ground compared to their counterparts learning in person, whether that’s in other schools in Chicago or schools across the country.

The time to send our kids to school is now. While teacher union leaders vacation maskless on the white sandy beaches of Puerto Rico and virtually protest school reopening, single parents are forced to stay home so their kids can virtually raise their hands and be marked present. Their children are getting a subpar education while they are forced ever closer to the nightmare of eviction.

We can and must do better as adults. We can meet what I pray is one of the final tests of COVID-19, and that’s the test to not let it be used as a political football in opposition to the prosperous futures of the children of Chicago. 

Photo courtesy Chicago Public Schools.

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Willie Preston

Willie Preston is a Chicago Public Schools parent, owner and operator of Preston Construction, LLC, and a community activist. In 2018 he ran for Illinois state representative in the 31st district, which includes portions of Chicago's South Side.