CPS is ready to welcome students and teachers back to classrooms. Or else. Credit: MCHE LEE / UNSPLASH

As I sit in the safety of my attic—afraid to leave for fear of catching COVID—the powers that be are ordering grammar-school teachers to return to the classroom. Or else!

Pre-K and special ed classes begin January 11. Kindergarten through eighth-grade classes start by the end of January. High schoolers, stand by—your time will come. And that’s an order.

Or as Janice Jackson—CEO of Chicago Public Schools—put it in her announcement:

“Teachers don’t have a choice of opting in or out. . . . If they don’t show up to work, it will be handled the same way it’s handled in any other situation where an employee fails to come to work.”


Beat it, buster! You’re fired!

’Cause, you know, there’s this long line of exceedingly qualified teachers just dying to come to Chicago and possibly catch COVID in a CPS classroom.

Especially if it means working for such warm and fuzzy administrators who clearly care so much for the teachers they employ.

Jackson and Mayor Lightfoot said teachers, students, and parents should have no fears, as they’re making sure every safety precaution is being followed.

Like . . . smaller classrooms. Everyone in masks. Teachers outfitted with hazmat suits.

Just kidding. You know CPS can’t afford hazmat suits. Not when they have to give away billions in TIF dollars to developers looking to build upscale communities in already gentrifying neighborhoods.

Anyway, this raises the question of trust. Or, more to the point . . .

If I were a Chicago Public Schools teacher, would I trust Mayor Lightfoot and Jackson when they say it’s safe to return to the classroom?

Wow, tough question.

On the one hand, you have scientists and doctors saying schools are not super-spreader environments.

On the other hand—man, none of these scientists and doctors have ever dealt with Chicago.

In contrast, I’m an old, jaded journalist who’s been chronicling the people who run Chicago schools—and the mayors who appoint them—going back to the 80s.

And before that I heard horror stories about central office bureaucrats from my schoolteacher mom. A typical sentence starting like this—You wouldn’t believe what those schmucks did this time!

Plus, Mayor Lightfoot and Jackson are saying they’re opening the schools ’cause it’s in the best interests of poor children.

Ugh, oh. Now, I’m really nervous.

The powers that be are always saying they’re doing stuff in the best interests of children. And somehow the best interests of poor children are never actually met.

Why, even Mayor Rahm said he was looking out for the best interests of poor Black children in economically devastated neighborhoods when he announced he was closing those 50 schools back in 2013.

Actually, Rahm didn’t announce the closing of those schools. At that time, he was off on a skiing holiday in Utah. He left it to Barbara Byrd-Bennett—his handpicked CEO—to make the announcement.

A couple of years later, Byrd-Bennett went to prison for running a scam in which an outside consulting agency got a $21 million principal consulting contract after promising to kick a little money back to her.

And it’s pretty obvious that Mayor Rahm and his handpicked school board looked the other way on that contract—even though it reeked of corruption—because they needed Byrd-Bennett to be the public face on the school closings.

Which was supposed to be such a wonderful deal for poor Black kids in economically devastated communities.

Now I realize it’s not fair to hold Mayor Lightfoot or Janice Jackson accountable for the sins of Rahm—of which there are many.

Still, once burned, one gets a little cautious.

Anyway, I was pondering the do-I-trust-them question when I bumped into an old family friend I’ll call Indi. I’d use her real name, but I learned long ago not to trust CPS when it comes to teachers who tell the truth about what’s really going on.

She told me that she’s nervous about returning to the classroom because she’s pregnant.

CPS said she could be exempted from the classroom with a note from her doctor confirming she’s pregnant. As opposed to lying so she can stay at home and eat bonbons.

The central office being far more vigilant about vetting teachers than, oh, well-connected consultants who are getting $21 million contracts.

CPS instructed Indi to get an e-mail from her doctor saying she was pregnant. Only her doctor doesn’t have an e-mail address. Apparently, many doctors no longer use e-mail.

Instead, they use a system called MyChart. Which is incompatible with the CPS e-mail system.

And you can’t just get a handwritten note from your doctor. ’Cause this is the 21st century, Boomer!

Dutifully, Indi e-mailed the correct bureaucrat at the central office asking for a medical exemption form in PDF, which she would send to her doctor.

And she waited for a response. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Sick of waiting, she sent CPS another request for the PDF.

And waited. And waited. And waited.

After waiting over a week—and facing a December 11 deadline—she called her union rep. And the union rep called her contacts at CPS and—hooray—Indi got her forms. (And Mayor Lightfoot wonders why teachers need a union.)

Indi sent the PDF to her doctor. Alas, her doc’s on vacation.

Indi doesn’t know if her doctor will respond in time for the December 11 deadline. Much less if CPS will grant her an exemption.

For all we know, CPS is relying on graduates of the Rudy W. Giuliani School of Epidemiology who say pregnancy shmregnancy. Get back in the classroom!

So, do I trust the powers that be to do the right thing for teachers, students, and parents?

Based on Indi’s experience the answer is . . . hell no!

But, then, I’m just an old, jaded journalist who’s been chronicling the powers that be in this city for a long, long time.  v