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Letters: Why are CPS students being offered less in many aspects of their education and well-being?

Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have demonstrated just how low they’ve set the bar for the children of Chicago regarding well-being and health in our schools. Other major cities like Washington and Los Angeles are requiring a negative test before students reenter buildings after break.

As a CPS teacher, but primarily as a human being, I ask: Why are my students consistently offered less, in essentially every aspect of their education and well-being? Do they not deserve weekly opt-out testing? Is this not a basic public health measure, just as proof of vaccine cards are currently required to eat unmasked in ever-crowded Chicago restaurants?

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After spending the better part of a decade teaching in this school system, I believe that what we suffer from collectively in Chicago is a shared feeling of jadedness toward CPS and the mayor’s office. We’ve come to expect everything to be so broken, mismanaged, understaffed and overworked that we’re allowing an enormous task to go untended.

Many believe, as the mayor does, that it’s impossible to test all of our kids. I ask everyone to think more boldly. Given the scope and depth of this COVID-19 emergency, why aren’t federal authorities helping us test our students? Where is the Biden administration right now?

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The task we face as a city, but also as a nation, is to regularly test all of our students, regardless of cost, and to vastly improve vaccination rates among low-income children of color. If their mandate is in-person instruction, then let our mandate be mass testing and basic mitigation procedures that the Board of Education and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have failed to implement in our classrooms.

I give thanks that the Chicago Teachers Union is as bold as the moment calls for. I understand that when this current lockout is over, and after we get a safety plan with the Board of Education, we will be in a better place than we were prior. This, without a measure of doubt, will translate into lives saved and futures preserved.

— Gabriel Paez, Chicago

Arne Duncan’s political ambition

Recently, Arne Duncan, a former secretary of education, expressed interest in becoming Chicago’s next mayor. While some may not remember him as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, I do. Duncan and the school board decided in 2005 to close the school where my teaching career began, Englewood High. It’s easy to forget that he started off as Mayor Richard Daley’s appointed CEO of CPS and ushered in an era of school privatization that resulted in dozens of controversial school closings, which were concentrated in the city’s Black community. Not to mention that he famously called Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”

Now Duncan is back as an anti-violence activist and often mentioned as a front-runner on a short list of mayoral hopefuls for the 2023 election cycle. As violence has peaked and the school district remains closed amid an omicron outbreak, Duncan appears ready to throw his hat in the ring to run for mayor.

The effort by Duncan to rehabilitate his record, without reference to his controversial tenure at CPS or as the architect of the maligned Race to the Top program, the federal policy that tied school funding to performance on high stakes testing, is a serious omission. Between top billing in op-eds published by major newspapers quoting his anti-violence bona fides to centerfolds in the business press, the business class is on a full court press to boost Duncan’s prospects in light of current Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s flailing administration.

After Englewood High closed in 2008, I kept in touch with former students. Some shared stories of siblings who dropped out of school after being forced to transfer across gang boundaries, in some cases 8 miles away from their former schools. Later on, Mayor Rahm Emanuel borrowed from Duncan’s playbook and closed the greatest number of schools at one time in the nation’s history, mostly in Black communities.

If we are ever going to have an honest conversation in this city about how institutional racism has perpetuated the violence, life expectancy gaps and myriad other disparities we see across our 77 community areas, it has to come alongside a reckoning for those who perpetuated those policies. I hope in the future we ask these tough questions of the former education secretary or anyone else who thinks they have our best interests at heart.

— Jackson Potter, teacher, Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, Chicago

Frustrated parent in Austin

As a parent of four children in Chicago Public Schools from the Austin community, I am frustrated with the disorganization that has left families with closed schools this week.

While teachers and students’ safety is important, politics should not dictate our children’s education. We must find a quick solution that takes into account the diverse needs of each CPS school. For example, my child’s school has a COVID-19 safety committee that monitors all virus-related matters in the school. If every school had one of these committees, I am confident that we could have safe, comfortable environments for each school. Then, decisions about switching to remote learning could be made at the school level by those closest to the situation.

Ultimately, our children should not be caught in the middle of another disagreement between the mayor and the Chicago Teachers Union.

— Claiborne Wade, Chicago

Remembering Frank Zuccarelli

I knew Frank Zuccarelli, Thornton Township’s late supervisor, in the early 1970s. During that time, I lived in a apartment in downtown Harvey on 154th Street near Center Avenue. My friend Chad and I lived in the front apartment, and Frank and his friend lived in the rear apartment.

Frank was an Air Force veteran, and his roommate was a Marine Corps veteran. Frank was attending Thornton Junior College, and he was active in student and veteran affairs. I would say that Frank started his political career at the college.

Many years after we all lived in the same building did I find out he was the Thornton Township supervisor. Back when I knew Frank, he was a great, good-hearted guy, and it sounds he was a great guy and leader when he served Thornton Township.

I wish I would have kept in contact with Frank, but now it is too late.

Frank had an infectious laugh, and he would get all of us laughing. I wish I could hear his laugh one more time.

Rest in peace, Frank.

— Jeffrey Oehrlein, Round Lake Beach

Oppose all gerrymandering

Of course, states whose legislatures have Democratic majorities should quit gerrymandering, as the Jan. 6 editorial asserts (“An ignominious anniversary that must now be channeled for the American good”). But, of course, so should states whose legislatures have Republican majorities, an equal truth the Tribune Editorial Board fails to assert.

Neither party will do so unilaterally, understandably, lest it rarely win another election. The editorial board’s transparently partisan pandering on this subject is juvenile, and indefensible to boot. Either make a principled stand against all gerrymandering, or stop mentioning it until you can find the gumption to do so.

— Joan Pederson, Chicago

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