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Demands placed on Mayor Lightfoot to address impact of pandemic, economic crisis on Chicago students

By Thomas Leng |
May 10, 2020
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Sign from May 7 Chicago Right to Recovery Protest
Sign from May 7 Chicago Right to Recovery Protest

Chicago, IL - Close to 400,000 students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are in their seventh week of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this haze of attempting to teach the children of Chicago one thing is becoming crystal clear: disparity. According to NBC Chicago 52% of coronavirus deaths are of African American people and 25% are Latinos. Working-class African American and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sides are being hit much harder than predominantly white neighborhoods downtown and on the North Side.

This disparity is being felt in ‘schools.’ Remote learning is impossible without access to technology and the internet, something lacking for all too many working-class families. Students in residential facilities are expected to complete work without sufficient access to a computer. Before the pandemic it was estimated that CPS served 17,000 homeless students. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not addressing the needs of working-class families effectively or efficiently. Students are not being educated.

Chicago Teachers Union Area Vice President Sarah Chambers said, “The Chicago Public Schools should not use a ‘one size fits all approach’ to the pandemic. The allocation of resources should prioritize students with the greatest need, including Black and brown students as well as those with disabilities.”

Teachers and staff need training on how best to help undocumented families. Many of these families are facing a deep economic crisis on top of the health crisis facing our communities. Undocumented immigrant workers are ineligible for the stimulus check. Some are hiding from ICE raids that continue in Chicago during the pandemic. Students and families are traumatized by their conditions.

In addition, teachers and staff need training to provide emotional support for students who have lost family members due to COVID-19. Also, despite massive layoffs working-class people are still required to pay rent. “We need a rent, mortgage and eviction freeze,” Chambers demanded. “How can students who are possibly facing homelessness learn in the face of the emotional distress that arises from this health and economic crisis?”

Mayor Lightfoot, Chicago Public Schools, and the city of Chicago need to address these issues for our students, their families and the entire working class if people are going to survive this crisis. The Chicago Teachers Union has joined the Right to Recovery coalition. This is a massive grassroots organizing effort to win the recovery that working people need.

The boss will give us nothing, if we do not demand it. Join the working class and people of conscience making these demands, we need you.

Thomas Leng is a special education teacher at World Languages Academy and a member of the Chicago Teachers Union.

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