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‘They made us look like fools’

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Parents furious over one-two stumble by CPS

By Tim Hadac

As Chicago Public Schools were set to re-open earlier this week, parents of CPS students were still fuming over what most seemed to see as a two-part stumble by district administrators.

“We did exactly what they asked of us, and they made us look like fools in front of our children,” said West Lawn resident Yesenia Morales, whose son attends Eberhart School. “Next time they ask for anything from me, I’ll tell them where to go.”

The stumble was a bungled attempt by CPS to conduct mass testing for COVID-19 among students.

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Public school children’s nasal swab specimens lie on a sidewalk outside an overflowing FedEx drop box near 52nd and Pulaski. A number of city parents, frustrated with clogged drop-off sites in Chicago, drove to the suburbs on Dec. 28 to drop specimens at suburban FedEx locations. –Supplied photo

“I’d like to know what idiot at CPS or in the Mayor’s Office came up with this ridiculous plan,” said Clearing resident Debra Garcia, whose daughter attends Hale School. “I don’t see how this effort will protect even one child or make even the smallest dent in the pandemic.”

Before CPS students were dismissed for winter break, students were given at-home COVID-19 test kits. Parents were instructed to go online, complete a 13-step process for testing their children with a nasal swab and drop the swabbed samples off in a sealed package for pickup and laboratory analysis.

CPS officials said they distributed about 150,000 at-home testing kits to their approximately 350,000 students; but they did not say which schools in the city received tests and which did not.

Parents across the Southwest Side indicated they received tests.

The purpose of the mass testing, according to CPS officials, was to keep ill students away from school and protect those without infection.

Participation was voluntary, and a number of parents said they had no intention of testing their children.

Many others did, but found themselves frustrated when they tried to return the sealed packets to FedEx.

CPS asked that parents test their children on Dec. 28 and immediately drop specimens in sealed packets at a number of FedEx drop boxes across the city.

FedEx boxes across the area were overflowing, with specimens sitting outside or hours in freezing temperatures. Staff at other drop-off points, including some Walgreens, were so overwhelmed they reportedly started refusing to accept packets. Some of CPS’ recommended drop-off points, like inside Midway International Airport or at hospitals, were inaccessible to people walking in.

CPS also suggested that parents drop off their children’s specimens at Chicago Public Library branches. But just six of the 75 CPL branches were accepting specimens—none anywhere near the Southwest Side.

Near the end of the day Dec. 28, CPS parents were burning up Facebook pages with dissatisfaction.

“Just wondering if 15 texts and 6 calls are necessary?” asked one mother annoyed by overly aggressive “reminder” calls and texts from CPS.

“I’m wondering what they mean by neighborhoods hit hardest [by COVID-19],” Beth Mozoli said. “All neighborhoods should be the same. I’m not going to wait in line on the street with my three kids just to get them tested. You need to send the kit to everyone, regardless of ZIP code.”

Deron Williams said CPS “received more than $2 billion in COVID funds. They can’t give every student a test? Where’s the money?”

Evelina Marquez said her son’s COVID-19 test “did not have enough numbers in the barcode, so now I am on hold with the agency. This is so frustrating.”

One CPD mother wondered “why the kids should get tested by [Dec. 28] when Christmas was just three days ago? Today would be day 3. Chances are they can be positive but too early for a test to detect, according to CDC standards. Why not have them tested on Thursday?

“I will say it’s things like this that go against what people are being told by the CDC, and then you wonder why people are suspicious of things.”

Lucinda Perez added, “Make remote learning an option. I’m not sending my son back to school next week. This is beyond ridiculous!”

“I want a detailed explanation from Mayor Lightfoot on who from her staff thought, in what universe it would be possible for FedEx to handle up to 150,000 extra packages—over and above their normal holiday load—on a single day,” said Brad Klimec. “This is a textbook example of bad planning and a perfect illustration of school programs designed not by parents, but bureaucrats in downtown offices.”

As the fiasco unfolded, the Chicago Teachers Union added this via Twitter: “This isn’t on FedEx or Walgreen’s employees for not being prepared. They were unprepared because this plan by the mayor and CPS was not well thought-out, and no one prepared them.”

Stumble, Part 2

As the new year dawned, many Southwest Side parents reported receiving emails from Color, a California-based medical testing company paid by CPS to process the COVID-19 tests and deliver results.

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A sight seen by many CPS parents opening emails to learn the results of their children’s COVID-19 nasal swab tests. –Supplied photo

The emails said that since Color did not receive the tests in a timely manner, any results from processing would be worthless.

Parents were advised that COVID-19 testing may be conducted in the future, but the message offered no details.

CPS officials have not said what the failed effort cost taxpayers, and they have not yet responded to a Greater Southwest News-Herald request for comment.

“What do I tell my kids when they ask, ‘Mami, how did I do on my COVID test? Am I sick?’” asked Chicago Lawn resident Juanita Valdes, whose children attend several CPS schools. “And what is the lesson the kids are learning from this? That when you follow all the rules at school, you get screwed? Great.”

In the wake of the fiasco, Chicago Teachers Union leaders threatened a walk-out over what they said was the Lightfoot Administration’s repeated refusal to address CTU concerns over pandemic-related safety.

“The mayor’s CPS team has received more than $2.6 billion in federal COVID relief funds for students’ COVID recovery,” CTU officials said Monday in a statement. “Yet Lightfoot continues to refuse to take leadership in protecting families and communities from COVID, with no plans for rigorous school-based testing or vaccine programs.

“Only 7% of black children and 13% of Latinx children age 5-11 had been fully vaccinated for COVID in Chicago by mid-December,” officials continued. “CPS has refused to release school-by-school vaccine numbers, at the same time that few students are getting weekly COVID tests at hundreds of schools, with parents complaining that CPS is not even testing students who HAVE been signed up. The mayor’s CPS team has repeatedly failed to meet even its own modest promises in testing and contact tracing, refused to stand up a robust student vaccine program, refused to document HVAC safety, failed to maintain even 3-foot social distancing, failed to improve serious problems with sanitation and cleanliness, and continues to reject a science-based metric to determine when there’s too much COVID to learn in-person safely.”

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