Chicago Public Schools will let local school councils decide whether to meet virtually or in person. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Hundreds of LSC members citywide expressed concerns about accessibility and COVID-19 safety last week when CPS told them to resume their prepandemic meeting formats.

Local school councils can continue meeting online as they see fit, Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday, backtracking on a mandate that councils return to in-person meetings this fall.

Hundreds of LSC members citywide expressed concerns about accessibility and COVID-19 safety last week when CPS told them to resume their prepandemic meeting formats.

There was also a letter signed by more than 120 council members that pointed out the district had misinterpreted a recent change in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pandemic emergency executive order on public meetings, which CPS had cited in its mandate. A governor’s office spokeswoman concurred, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that nothing in state law prevented the head of a public body from determining virtual meetings suit it best.

In an email to LSC members Thursday, CPS official Adrian Segura said LSC chairpersons are the head of each public body and “as such the chairperson determines whether an in-person meeting is impractical or imprudent.”

Even so, he nudged LSCs toward in-person meetings by suggesting “that determination should be consistent with requirements for students and staff” who have to attend school in-person this year.

Segura also acknowledged that “a majority of our LSCs experienced growth in stakeholder interest” when meetings moved online during the pandemic, and suggested those returning in person should still provide a method for virtual attendance as well as make recordings available afterward.

The accessibility and convenience that came with virtual meetings were a rare pandemic silver lining at CPS and key to much of the displeasure with last week’s announcement. Some LSCs saw hundreds attend their meetings over the past year after little to no engagement prepandemic. Parents and teachers could follow along from home — or anywhere else — while handling their other responsibilities and without making the evening trek to school.

Kristin Hamley, a parent representative at McPherson Elementary in Lincoln Square, said she was pleased that CPS “did the right thing” by telling LSCs they could make their own decisions.

Hamley had said earlier in the week that virtual meetings continued to be necessary for her school, particularly because “participation among non-LSC members is consistently much higher than it was prepandemic because it’s easy for parents and teachers to log on from home.”

Many also said they were worried whether it was safe or necessary to meet in-person when there’s so much anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus’ Delta variant, particularly when it wasn’t clear whether parent and community LSC representatives and attendees were covered by the district’s vaccine mandate.

Segura said in his email Thursday that parents would only be required to get a shot if they spend at least 10 hours in a school per week, and community members would have to get vaccinated if they’re at a school five hours a week. Even if LSC meetings were held in person, those hours likely wouldn’t be met by the vast majority of those people and tracking those hours wouldn’t be easy.

Read More

Leave a Reply