CPS Focus Group parents and grandparents write public officials with concerns about summer school, resuming fall classes

The following letter was delivered this week to Dr. Janice Jackson, CEO, and other leadership at the Chicago Public Schools, including its office of Students in Temporary Living Situations. This letter also was delivered to officials in the mayor’s office and the Illinois State Board of Education. The parents group is seeking meetings with CPS and state education leaders.

We are a committee of parents and grandparents with lived experience of homelessness who have children and grandchildren enrolled in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). We are writing because we have many concerns for the summer of 2020 and the 2020-2021 school year. These past few months with schools closed were extremely challenging and disorienting for our children. Our children and other students experiencing homelessness will need robust and compassionate supports to successfully navigate the new school year. This letter addresses our specific concerns and asks that CPS and its Students in Temporary Living Situations office (STLS) implement certain supports for students experiencing homelessness.

As parents and grandparents, our biggest concern is that children are safe and healthy. It will be important for CPS to have a clear and organized plan in place to maintain social distancing and keep children safe. We request CPS have a holistic plan that is communicated in various formats to parents, guardians, and teachers to:

  • Create sanitizing areas/stations for students
  • Provide adequate personal protective equipment for STLS students
  • Have a scheduled time where doorknobs and desks are cleaned
  • Provide teachers with adequate cleaning supplies and protective gear
  • Place desks six feet apart
  • Limit the number of students in classrooms and prioritize STLS students in accessing in-classroom learning
  • Create COVID-19 testing sites for teachers and students at schools where students and teachers were exposed to COVID-19
  • Have STLS clerks and liaisons identify and assist STLS students in need of health insurance
  • Mark the floor to promote social distancing, and
  • Distribute hand sanitizer to STLS students.

We care a great deal about our children’s education. For many of our families, distance learning has been challenging. Due to housing instability, job loss, and health issues, we are concerned about our children being able to focus during the 2020-2021 school year and being held back because of distance learning.

To support STLS students academically during school closures and after schools reopen, we are asking CPS to provide the following to make the next school year productive:

  • School programming that prioritizes the academic needs of homeless students and students in special education
  • Expansive supports for parents and guardians to provide at home educational support to their children
  • Training CPS staff on social emotional learning to help kids adjust back to school
  • Curriculum that addresses the trauma students especially homeless students faced during school closures
  • One-on-one discussions with parents and teachers about what transitioning back to the classroom will look like and what supports students may need
  • Extra tutoring services for homeless students, and
  • Continuation of providing computing devices and Wi-Fi devices for homeless students so there is technological equity.

The final area that we are concerned about regards community resources and emotional support. Due to COVID-19, there will be more students and families in challenging and stressful situations because they lack housing stability. We are requesting that school staff, especially STLS liaisons, meet with homeless families at the beginning of the school year to assist families in accessing community resources, including:

  • Housing supports services
  • Work-related support services
  • Counseling and therapy
  • Legal supports
  • Rental assistance
  • Food pantries, and
  • Clothing closets/pantries, and support groups.

Our names are April Harris, Patricia Franklin, Kellia Phillips, Taisha Newman, Margaret Bingham, Tracy McGovern, Bridget Barber, Kimberley Bailey, Crystal Sahler, and Maxica Williams. On behalf of CPS parents, we thank you for taking time to read our letter.

We would be grateful for the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this letter further. If this can be arranged, you can contact us via email to aphillips@chicagohomeless.org

Sincerely,

Chicago Public Schools Focus Group
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless