While CTU Talks, Black Parents Must Organize

The Chicago Teachers Union’s act of forcing an entire district to learn remotely or not at all, even for a short time, is rooted in racism. It ignores the fact that large numbers of children suffered last year–academically, physically and emotionally. In a 2021 survey, Black and Asian families, and families of remote learners expressed the most concerns. We know that many struggling CPS students could face extra challenges finding a good high school in the future. Given all this, it was wrong of CTU leaders to ask their members to force a work stoppage and go remote. They moved on with their plan, without acknowledging the critical state our babies are in.

It’s also important to remember that the chance of catching COVID is not the only issue our children face right now, nor is it necessarily the most pressing. We’re just beginning to realize how much harm last year did to young people, not only academically, but in terms of their mental health and emotional well-being. In fact, long after the pandemic finally subsides, experts warn that the mental health consequences of the pandemic–from grief and loss to social isolation–are likely to persist. 

In fact, the second-leading cause of death among adolescents is death by suicide. Recent research shows Black children and teens’s rates of death by suicide are spiking. A lack of culturally-aware therapists discourages families from seeking help. Black families are also dealing with the many challenges the pandemic presents in the same deeply racist environment present before COVID-19 exploded on the scene. In a recent national poll, Black families rated racism as their number one health concern for their teens, with COVID-19 second. 

Families Should Choose Remote or In-Person

It is certainly true that there are Black families who want their children to learn remotely right now. All during winter break, the news, social media and family text messages bombarded me with news of more deaths due to Covid and hospitalizations of fully-vaccinated people. Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez publicly stated he expected case numbers to rise after winter break.   No wonder parents are scared 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 where they can speak up. Before the CTU vote, I know a lot of parents were praying that schools would not close. Taking a parent’s choice away is wrong. Parents should be given the opportunity to do what is best for their family. 

The Chicago Public Schools—and districts all over the country— should also be listening to the folks on the ground. Neither the union nor CPS really understands the needs of the people in my South Side, Black community.

When School Stops, Give Families a Refund

If CPS and CTU can’t get their act together, parents should be able to get their money back. When public schools aren’t working, parents should be able to take their children to private schools. Family income and wealth should not matter. In fact, that’s already happening in other parts of the country. Just this week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey launched the Open for Learning Benefit. The new benefit will provide up to $7,000 for income-eligible families whose schools close unexpectedly—even for just one day. Families can use the money for state-approved child care, school-coordinated transportation, online tutoring and yes, private school tuition.

For far too long, children have suffered while City Hall and CTU put money and political power ahead of their welfare. Now is the time for parents to organize and force both sides to put children first.

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Natasha Dunn

A resident of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, Natasha Dunn has spent more than a decade organizing with parents to help them access early childhood opportunities. Natasha is passionate about promoting greater equity for parents across Chicago. As the mom of three children, including twins, she supports fellow parents in meeting every child’s unique needs.