Aldermen will meet Monday, as some students return to Chicago public schools, to debate the specifics of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s controversial plan to start getting kids back into classrooms.
The City Council Education Committee will hold a subject-matter hearing on the reopening, set to begin hours after preschoolers and some special education students head into school buildings across the city for the first time since last spring.
That means no vote on any legislation, but a public forum for aldermen to vent and press for answers about perceived shortcomings in the school district’s decision during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pressure from aldermen has mounted on Lightfoot in recent days to address concerns with the Chicago Public Schools plan.
Three dozen aldermen, including several Lightfoot allies, signed a letter urging the school district to reconsider it, and calling for the mayor and school leaders to collaborate with the Chicago Teachers Union on the reopening framework.
With the union complaining that the plan to return is dangerous for teachers and students because of the virus numbers, more than half of Chicago Public Schools teachers who were expected to return to schools Monday in advance of students returning next week did not show up.
But Lightfoot herself controls the school district through a hand-picked Board of Education and CEO Janice Jackson, so there’s little the City Council can do to make changes.
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Education Committee Chairman Ald. Michael Scott, 24th, said he thinks the Monday hearing will be a good chance for his colleagues to get their questions answered.
“No plan is going to be perfect, but I think CPS has done as good a job as possible addressing as many safety concerns as possible during this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in,” Scott said. “The hearing will allow aldermen to get some clarity about the specific protocols that have been put in place.”
Officials from CPS and the city Department of Public Health have been invited to attend.
Though aldermen are severely limited in what they can do to influence CPS policy, North Side Ald. Matt Martin, 47th, said he’s hopeful the hearing will be the first step in a broader public dialogue.
“I don’t think aldermen’s involvement will end with this Monday meeting,” Martin said. “So it’s important in that it will be an opportunity for aldermen and members of the public who testify to voice their concerns about what has been happening in specific schools since Monday, to get answers from CPS officials on those issues and on the overall strategy.”
South Side Ald. Jeanette Taylor, 20th, has been calling for a hearing on the reopening plan for months. Taylor was less optimistic about how helpful the Monday hearing will be.
“Will it stop those schools from reopening on Monday? No? Then it’s not worth a thing,” Taylor said. “I’ll be there, because it’s my job to be there, but this is nothing but professional time wasting. This is what they try to do. They let us talk, but they don’t give us any real ability to have any say about what they’re doing in the schools.”