CPS mandates return to in-person school council meetings, irking some representatives
Now that Chicago Public Schools students have returned for in-person classes, the district wants Local School Councils to resume in-person meetings for the first time during the pandemic, a move that has upset some elected school representatives.
If there was a pandemic silver lining at CPS over the past year and a half, it was the increased engagement that some LSCs saw when their meetings moved online. While select schools didn’t see large attendance upticks virtually, others had hundreds of people log on, a far cry from many in-person LSC meetings in the past where few, if any, people showed up. From Spanish translation to hearing-impaired services, LSCs were as accessible as ever from the comfort of families’ homes.
But keeping in line with a return to pre-pandemic practices, virtual LSC meetings must come to an end, CPS officials told the school councils last week.
An email from the district’s LSC director, Myra Winding, said Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s emergency COVID-19 provisions that required public meetings to be conducted virtually had ended.
“This means that Local School Councils must return to the pre-pandemic requirements for conducting open meetings in person,” she wrote.
Reached Friday, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the governor’s executive orders “were amended to take out the open meetings act provisions since we no longer have capacity limits, but public bodies are able to determine if they can do meetings in person or virtually based on their own circumstances.”
Kristin Hamley, a parent representative at McPherson Elementary in Lincoln Square, said virtual meetings continue to be necessary for her school.
“Participation among non-LSC members is consistently much higher than it was pre-pandemic because it’s easy for parents and teachers to log on from home,” Hamley said.
The other issue is safety: All staff and vendors associated with CPS are under vaccine mandates. A district spokeswoman didn’t answer questions about the updated LSC policy, including whether the vaccine requirement will apply to LSC members or attendees who aren’t already covered — parents and community members.
“Requiring in-person meetings creates a lot of problems for us,” Hamley said. “What is the plan for contact tracing for parents and teachers who are exposed to COVID at meetings, and what’s the plan for those parents’ and teachers’ classrooms?”
Hamley said it was “shocking” to her that CPS is “misinterpreting these rules and introducing more variables into schools” when parents are already worried about the spread of COVID-19 with the full return to in-person learning.
“We have a diverse group of LSC members with different needs,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to accommodate them. We are best equipped to decide whether meetings should continue remotely while the pandemic is still very much a force in our lives.”
Another group of 17 LSC members from five Rogers Park schools signed a letter to Winding indicating “extreme disappointment” by the “unacceptable” decision to mandate in-person meetings.
“First and foremost, the pandemic is not over,” the LSC members wrote. “Given that LSCs have met virtually without any issues that we are aware of for over a year, this is an arbitrary decision that places LSC members unnecessarily at risk.”
The group said it believed resuming in-person meetings when many don’t yet feel safe would “serve to stifle community and LSC voices,” particularly those who are of older age, immunocompromised or have to be home to care for their children.
“If nothing else, during this time we have all learned the importance of the need to be flexible and to assess different circumstances when making decisions,” the letter read. “There is no one size fits all approach during a public health crisis.”