Mayor Lightfoot and CPS officials almost have me persuaded to wait out the pandemic in a grade-school cafeteria. It's perfectly safe!
Mayor Lightfoot and CPS officials almost have me persuaded to wait out the pandemic in a grade-school cafeteria. It's perfectly safe! Credit: Trung Pham Quoc / Unsplash

Amid the gloom and the doom of the pandemic, it’s nice to know it’s sunny skies and daffodils at Chicago Public Schools—at least according to Mayor Lightfoot and her aides at CPS.

They make it sound so safe I might wait out the pandemic at the nearest grade-school cafeteria.

Just joking to keep from crying. In the real world, many CPS staffers are freaking out over the mayoral mandate to get back to school—or else!

As I write this, we still don’t know if the showdown will result in a system-wide shutdown (call it a strike or a lockout).

While we wait, allow me to share a story or two to give you an idea of why not all staffers are assured by what the mayor or CEO Janice Jackson have to say.

Let’s start with this little ditty about a couple of teachers I’ll call Jack and Diane—in honor of a song I happened to recently hear on the radio.

Jack had a legitimate health-related reason for being excused from the classroom and working remotely from his home. So he requested an exemption from an “investigator” in the Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Office that’s part of the Talent Office with Chicago Public Schools.

Sometimes you have to see these bureaucratic names to believe them.

Jack never heard back from the Talent Office. So he sent a follow-up e-mail explaining that perhaps his request had gotten lost in the system.

We’ve all been there. Fill out a form wrong, and they drop you down the cyber rabbit hole never to be heard from anyone again.

The good news is that a bureaucrat responded with an e-mail saying Jack’s exemption had been approved. The bad news is that the bureaucrat sent Jack’s e-mail to Diane.

Not sure how that happened. Jack and Diane’s names aren’t remotely similar. They don’t work at the same school. They don’t know each other. Diane hadn’t even applied for an exemption.

Anyway, Diane forwarded the e-mail to Jack. That makes it more or less a happy ending, as CPS stories go.

What else? Oh, yes, the affidavit saga.

Beware—acronyms to follow. Or RSPs—which is what CPS calls Related Service Providers. They’re the staffers such as occupational therapists who work with kids in classrooms. They’re not teachers but they are members of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Some of them were ordered back to the classroom when the mayor ordered schools open on January 11 for pre-K and special education students.

RSPs don’t just work at one school—they’re assigned to several schools. In the days before the pandemic, they’d drive from one school to the other to meet with their students in the course of a week.

Anyway, not all schools opened on January 11. Some remained closed, but Mayor Lightfoot commanded that all RSPs show up in a classroom nonetheless.

Why should all RSPs be ordered to go to classrooms if their students aren’t in school?

I’ve got two possible answers.

One—Mayor Lightfoot and Janice Jackson want to mess with the union—that’ll show you for going on strike last year, staffers!

Or, two, Mayor Lightfoot and Jackson are trying to come up with impressive-sounding statistics so they can brag about how they’re doing a great job reopening the schools. In this case: look at how many employees showed up to schools just like the mayor told them to.

And since none dropped dead from COVID-19—what a mayor!

Mayors are always trying to come up with impressive-sounding school statistics to wow the public. I recall a time years ago when CPS officials proudly announced the staggering number of children who had flunked. To demonstrate how Mayor Daley ended social promotions.

They made these kids take summer school, often in oven-hot classrooms in brick buildings without air conditioning. Many of the kids wound up dropping out of school.

That’ll teach you to flunk, kiddos!

Subsequent mayors brought back social promotion. Now they have impressive-sounding statistics about how they’re cutting the dropout rate.

Back to the RSPs. The staffers have to find empty classrooms to check into so they can work with the students who are at their homes. Unless they (the RSPs) have an excuse that enables them to work remotely.

And that’s where the affidavit comes in. Or as CPS put it in a memo sent to RSPs . . .

“RSPs that need to quarantine, including post-travel, must notify the RSP manager with medical certification or travel receipts. . . When these documents are not available, the attached affidavit can be utilized. Staff members who do not submit the requested documentation will be rejected . . . for the associated leave or telework time.”

The affidavit reads like something written by the goon squad in Mayor Lightfoot’s legal department.

“Affiant being first duly sworn on oath, solemnly swears or affirms that the leave/absence requested is/was necessary for the purpose(s) indicated and that there are no willful misrepresentations or falsifications . . . I understand that should an investigation disclose such misrepresentations or falsifications . . . I shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

I presume that’s termination as in job not, like, your actual existence. Even the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board is not that mad over the strike.

Much of the wrangling would be avoided if Mayor Lightfoot held off reopening the schools until staffers got vaccinated.

And Jackson recently announced that “there is nothing that we want more than to get the shots in the arms of our dedicated staff.”

But since we won’t have vaccines until mid-February, tough luck.

By chance, I recently got a text from a neighbor telling me about a local pediatrician who had access to vaccines. So if I know any teachers who need a shot, they should call the pediatrician.

Only in Chicago—you gotta know someone to get a vaccine.

In the meantime, get back in that petri dish, staffers—with or without a vaccination.

And if you feel yourself getting sick, fill out those affidavits. Or we’re sending in the goon squad from legal.  v