hands washing

What Should CPS Do to Fight COVID-19?

Chicago Public Schools has already had one staff member come down with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus spreading so quickly around the world that the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic. On March 3, the district announced it would provide schools with more hand soap and cleaning supplies. But teachers are saying on social media that their schools are not receiving them.

This level of precaution to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is a no-brainer. Yet CPS can’t make it happen. That’s not a good sign.

We Need At Home Testing for COVID-19

Another warning sign: the district missed testing a student at Vaughn Occupational High School, the school where an employee tested positive for the virus. And the student is showing key symptoms of COVID-19: a cough and fever. The student’s mother has self-isolated the family. Dr. Howard Ehrman, a former assistant commissioner for the department and a critic of the city and state’s response to the virus, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Somebody has to go to their house and test them.”

But so far, no one has.

Although children are not likely to get sick from COVID-19, it is likely they are key in its transmission. That’s why there’s a push to close schools as a pro-active step to slow the virus’s spread.

But most K-12 districts are poorly prepared to make a sudden shift to e-learning, and the digital divide continues to make equitable access to online learning a challenge.

So far, district leaders have not closed any schools beyond Vaughn. But increasing numbers of parents–usually those most able to care for their children at home–are considering voluntarily pulling their children out of school in the interests of public health.

It’s Time for Common Sense and Big-Picture Planning

Parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand made some commonsense recommendations in their latest newsletter: Every school needs a full-time nurse. The district needs to make sure every classroom is equipped with hand sanitizer and that hand soap is available at every sink.

Bigger picture questions abound, too. It’s testing time. Should the state board of education suspend testing? Should school be canceled? If so, how will kids who rely on school for two meals a day continue to eat? How will CPS develop an equitable e-learning strategy on the fly? Can the Chicago Public Library system help?

How can we plan now to help families who will need the most support with food, childcare and learning if school is canceled for an extended period of time? We already had an 11-day school strike this year. Now’s the time for city and school district leadership to get smart about contingency planning.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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