Today, the first day K-5 hybrid students will be re-entering Chicago Public Schools buildings, many families are taking part in a student sick-out to protest the current CPS reopening plan. Participants will keep their children out of class — in-person and remote — and send a protest letter to the principal, district, and the Mayor explaining that they are part of a school boycott.
Parents are demanding that CPS fully invest federal and local funds in Trust, Learning, and Care (TLC) for all students in the district. The focus should not only be on improving learning for the 70% of remote students, but also on addressing the needs of families who cannot stay remote, and adjusting the academic curriculum and grading expectations when instructional time and format have changed so much this school year.
At the most recent CPS board meeting, CEO Janice Jackson acknowledged that “some version of remote learning will be with us even going into the next school year.” She acknowledge the district has “an obligation to continue to improve remote learning.” But we have seen no concrete steps in this direction.
If CPS has run out of ideas in this area, then the district needs to listen to parents and let them have a seat at the table. Parents do not trust CPS leaders and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to make the right decisions on their own when it comes to investing money and resources into their children’s learning and care.
Chicago parents don’t have a union — but they do have power. This is a movement that has been built across the city for parents, by parents, and of the parents. “We are sick and tired of not being heard. If I say to my child, ‘You’re not going to school today or online,’ then there is no CPS without parents,” said Anastasia Chapital, a co-organizer of the sick-out. By participating in Monday’s school boycott, families are demonstrating that they also have a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in the leadership of CPS and the Mayor. Until TLC demands are acknowledged and invested in, parent organizers will continue to support more school boycotts.
It’s a School Boycott, Not a Day Off
In the spirit of the 1963 Chicago School Boycott, CPS parent and family organizers from across the city have come together to demand equitable education for students in all settings in all schools. There is power in school boycotts. The sick-out is not just a day off, it is an organized civil disobedience action by parents and students against the district and the Mayor.
If enough parents call their kids in sick all at once, we believe it will catch the district’s attention because they only seem to care about the dollar signs associated with attendance. Parents don’t want their children to miss school, but they’ve written letters, made calls, attended town halls, and nothing has changed. So it’s time to demonstrate the true power of parents to determine the future of their child’s education and make their opinions known.
One of the main purposes of the school boycott is to emphasize that the current CPS plan is failing students, especially the Black and Brown students who have been hit the hardest with failures and truancies during this pandemic. “Elementary students in particular are getting F’s at more than double the rate as last year. Perhaps most troubling to district officials is a significant rise in failing grades handed out to Black and Latino students.” The only solution CPS has offered is to say those students must return back to a school building, and shown little imagination beyond that for any other possibilities.
Instead of helping these students, the inflexible policies of CPS continue to perpetuate inequities for Black and Brown communities and deepen class divides across the city of Chicago. One solution proposed through the TLC demands is for students to have the option of ‘pandemic passes’ this school year. No child should be marked as failing or be held back during a pandemic. CPS students are trying to survive to next school year, and the added stress of telling some of them that they are failing is completely against a school model based on care.
We Parents Refuse to Be Divided
During the CPS-CTU battle that played out at the beginning of 2021, CPS tried to use parents as a wedge against the Chicago Teachers Union, pitting parents against teachers and even parents against parents. As parent organizers we refuse that narrative, and we know that teachers are not the enemy. The sick-out protest brings all types of parents together; whether staying remote or choosing hybrid, we all want CPS and the Mayor to do better for students at all levels.
The first CPS sick-out was on February 1st, and parents who protested helped contribute to delaying the original planned first day of in-person schooling for K-8 students. This resulted in more time for CTU to negotiate the conditions for teachers and school staff returning to school buildings. But while the CPS-CTU agreement reached on February 10th addressed teacher safety concerns, it still did not address the learning needs of CPS students, which is why parents are continuing to push forward.
Teachers have worked so hard to make remote learning work, and yet parent organizers recognize that it still doesn’t work for many families. With the CPS school reopening plan, the parents have been offered two bad choices – get two days in school under the hybrid plan or remain remote with less teacher time and no additional resources. There is so much more that can be done, especially if parents are allowed to work with teachers as partners and if the district would stop making it a hostile environment for everyone.
In the time of this pandemic, we need community care and mutual aid support more than ever. Parents are united across neighborhoods for this cause, and they don’t have to fight for their children’s needs alone. This is the time for a parent movement to come together and use their voices and to reverse all the ways that the CPS community has been weakened over the years. Join the school boycott on March 1st, or at least send a message in support of those fighting for justice and strong public education. This isn’t just one family’s fight, it’s all of our fight.
Read more about the Trust, Learning, and Care parent demands here: bit.ly/TLCMakesSense
Brenna O’Brien, PhD, is a former teacher, education researcher, parent of two CPS students, and co-organizer of the CPS Sick-Out.