Scores of nurses in the Chicago Public Schools district have objected to officials’ plans to begin bringing students back to classrooms on Monday, saying they do not think it is safe to do so. Chicago public schools have been closed since March.

A statement signed by 147 school nurses (see text below) says: “Many of us are CPS parents ourselves, and all wish to be back in school buildings, but the simple fact is that it is currently not safe to do this.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) is going ahead with a plan to bring back some elementary and special-needs students on Monday. Teachers who are expected to return but don’t will have their pay withheld. Lightfoot has said that schools have taken precautions so that they can reopen safely, and that students must get back to in-person learning because it is superior to online schooling.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which has led two strikes over the past decade, is opposed to the reopening, saying that coronavirus positivity rates for Chicago overall are way too high and are rising. Some teachers who returned to classrooms last week to prepare for school said they found unacceptable conditions for a safe return of students, including an insufficient number of masks and unsatisfactory ventilation systems.

Big-city school districts nationwide have made different decisions about when and how to reopen campuses closed since the pandemic was declared in March. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered all school districts to open or face the loss of millions of dollars in state funding.

In California, districts are making their own decisions based on coronavirus positivity rates. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school system in the country, has remained closed amid a soaring positivity rate. Some other large urban districts have made plans to reopen, only to postpone them as the rate of infections has risen.

When Chicago teachers went on strike for 11 days in 2019, one of the demands was that each school in the country’s third-largest school district have a nurse. Chicago officials said they would hire more nurses over a period of years to ensure a full-time nurse in every school.

That hasn’t happened, and the number of certified school nurses — medial professionals who can help treat chronic illnesses in individual students and work on health measures for all students — is fewer than 120. The district directly operates 514 schools. There are also 234 other kinds of nurses categorized as health-service nurses who are not trained in the same way that certified school nurses are.

The nurses said in their statement that although many children who are infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic, that is not sufficient reason to allow schools to reopen.

“Many say that children are not as affected by this disease,” it says. “The illnesses and deaths of family members from COVID-19 affects everyone, and it is dismissive to state otherwise. The mutant form of the virus, B.1.1.7, has arrived in the United States, and it is a matter of time before it reaches Chicago, if it hasn’t already. This strain has been demonstrated to be more contagious, and children in the United Kingdom are now testing positive at higher rates.”

Here’s the full statement:

Statement by Chicago Public School nurses
As the undersigned nurses employed by Chicago Public Schools (CPS), we wish to go on record as being opposed to the current plan of resuming in-person learning on January 11, as we do not believe it is safe for students, their families, or the wider community.
The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in October 2019 and a main demand was a nurse in every school every day. Our commitment to the health of our school communities is clear. CPS is still far away from having a nurse in every building every day.
COVID-19 has taken a terrible toll on everyone. Students, families, and educators have all been affected. For the African-American and Latinx communities, there has been disproportionate suffering. It is little wonder that two thirds of families from these backgrounds have opted to continue remote learning. Chronic racist health inequities underlie these disparities, and CPS arguing that “equity” needs to drive students back into unsafe buildings makes no sense.
We understand that remote learning is far from ideal, but the conditions of this pandemic are not of anyone’s choosing. Many of us are CPS parents ourselves, and all wish to be back in school buildings, but the simple fact is that it is currently not safe to do this.
As of January 3, positivity rates for Chicago overall are 9.2% and trending upward.[1] In some zip codes, such as 60639 and 60632, the positivity rates are over 17%. Deaths from across Illinois have been over 100 a day, and went up following Thanksgiving. It is reasonable to expect that these dire statistics will continue to worsen following the Winter Break.
Many say that children are not as affected by this disease. The illnesses and deaths of family members from COVID-19 affects everyone, and it is dismissive to state otherwise. The mutant form of the virus, B.1.1.7, has arrived in the United States, and it is a matter of time before it reaches Chicago, if it hasn’t already. This strain has been demonstrated to be more contagious, and children in the United Kingdom are now testing positive at higher rates.
While it may be the case that a child will recover more easily from such an infection, consider the psychological impact on them should a family member fall ill, if this disease is brought home from school. Multiple CPS buildings where people have been going in to work already, have had positive cases of COVID-19, and this is before students and staff have returned.
CPS’s current plan to handle students who are suspected of having COVID-19 is to have them kept in a “care room” until a parent can pick them up. This area will not be staffed by a nurse or any licensed healthcare worker, but by whomever the district can find. We have been told that training for these “care room” attendants is under development, but we have yet to see it rolled out.[2]
Furthermore, for students who have significant health needs, such as breathing treatments for asthma, or suctioning of a tracheostomy, we have not seen any written plan of how to carry out such procedures. In hospitals, these must be done in specially designed rooms, because the risk of spreading disease is too great.
To put it clearly: nurses who work in schools have not been asked to formulate CPS’s plan, but we are expected to carry it out - despite our objections.
We are not making this statement lightly or without careful consideration. Our professional license demands that we advocate on behalf of our communities, which is why we have chosen to speak directly to parents. Parents, please consider our position and our request that you carefully think about the risks involved with sending your preschool or cluster child into buildings on January 11. We are also asking that the wider community support us in our advocacy to work as full partners in designing a safe reopening within CPS.
Adia Anderson
Adrienne Torres
Alana Porter
Alexis Arguello
Alicia Gamble
Alicia Ivey
Alisha Morris
Amber Bradford
Andrea A. Rivera
Andrea Santella
Andrea Williamson
Andreina Melesio
Angela Morello
Anne Kulik
Aria Phipps
Ashley McGhee
Atinuke Ajibola
Audrea Hamilton
Audrey Burchett
Ayesha Qaadir
Barbara A. Jackson
Benna Bell
Beryl Ross-Randall
Betzua Rubio
Beverly R Woods
Bonnie johnson
Brandon Major
Bria Wilson
Camelia Odorhean
Camellia Noush
Carol Reilly
Cassandra Kowalczyk
Cassandra Walton
Catherine Johnson
Chassidy Jenkins
Cheryl Kramer
Chinita Dillard
Christiana Esguerra Gaviola
Christina Scelsa
Christine Blust
Christine R. Kurys
Cihomara Rubio Arias
Colleen Dalton
Constance Nolan
Courtney Hanson
Dana Rosales
Danielle Mason
Debra Adams
Debra Moore
Debra Starks
Dennis Kosuth
Diane Becerra
Donna L. Garrett-Loury
Ebony Morgan
Ebony Walton
Elizabeth Haloulos
Elonda Vann
Emma Manning
Erica McIntosh
Evelyn Thomas
Frank Ejechi
Genesis Perez
Genevieve Kelley
Gina Cannella
Gloria Salvey
Grace L. Hernandez
Helen Ramirez-Odell
Iman Matthews
Janet Clark
Janet James Benson
Janice DeChalus
Jessica Carrasco
Jessica V Cortes
Joan Lipschutz
Jocelyn Hendricks
Johanna E Magallon
Juanita Brown
Kainos Jackson
Katherine Whitaker
Kathleen O'Rourke-Patrick
Kathleen Wilson
Kathy Garrett
Katrina Caruthers
Kelly Brown
Khatara Johnson
Kimberly M. Dearth
Kysha Doyle
Latosha Nelson
Linda Francois
Lindsay Martin
Lisa Bangs
Lorena P. Ramirez
Lorraine Coleman
Marcina Adams
Margaret Ramir
Marianne Galloway
Maribel Landeros
Marion Branch
Marisol Maldonado
Marquisha Willis
Mary Ann Cantore
Mary Soeding
Meagan Goss
Megan Pacente
Melinda Svastisalee
Melissa Hazzard
Miriam Bahena-Cardona
Monica Diaconeasa
Nayshon Bond
Nga Nguyen
Nikeisha Salas
Norma Gill
Odily DeSouza-Leon
Omar Cattan
Pat Rencher
Patricia Pulliam
Patricia Roberts
PR Sanders-Hayes
Rocio Campos
Rosemary Grossley
Sabrina Coulter
Samantha Zackowitz
Sandra Beck
Sarah McFadden
Sarah Schroeder
Shaundra Ervin
Sheila Clancy
Shundra Robinson
Songbee Kim
Tanya Tomlin
Tara Winter
Tecoma Hill
Tesia Milton
Tiffany Eschmann
Tiffany Ward
Tonya Wainwright
Tracy Listermann-Norman
Valeda M. Shaver
Veronica Atariguana
Viridiana Carrillo
Wonswaylia McThune
Xujie Tan
Yamesse Viera
Yolanda A. Goodloe
Yolanda Starling
[1] As of Friday January 8th the positivity rate is 10.7% and rising
[2] Staff were emailed on Friday January 8th to review a 39 minute video, the day before pre-K and cluster students return