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Chicago Public Schools Classes Resume Monday Despite Concerns About COVID-19 Surge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago Public Schools classes resumed in-person on Monday after the winter break, but there is some concern about the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

As of Friday, the city was averaging more than 3,900 daily cases, up 42% from the week before.

Some parents are also concerned that tens of thousands of PCR tests turned in last week will not account for any New Year's Eve parties.

And, on top of that, the vast majority of those tests returned last week were not valid. According to the district's COVID testing data posted online, 35,590 tests were completed last week, and 18% of those were positive, but 24,843 were invalid because they were delayed in getting to the lab.

The Chicago Teachers Union has said they want CPS to delay the return to in-person learning, to require a negative PCR test for COVID before students can return to class, and to provide more high-quality masks to students and staff.

The union also blasted CPS for not being better prepared to handle the flood of test kits that were sent to the district last week, after distributing 150,000 tests to students and staff at 300 schools before the winter break.

"The overwhelming majority of those tests have been invalidated because of poor logistical planning by guess who again? The mayor and her team. Incompetence," said CTU vice president Stacy Davis Gates.

The union also wants to know what metrics will be used to determine if and when entire schools will be switched to remote learning.

"What will it take to shut down a school building when COVID is running rampant?" said Brianna Hambright-Paul, a school counselor at Park Manor Elementary, where CTU officials said 70% of students were in quarantine just ahead of winter break. The union said all teachers and paraprofessionals at Park Manor Elementary were working remotely on Monday due to the outbreak.

Some parents are joining the union's call for a move to remote learning until COVID numbers go down.

"We think in-person learning is the best for our children, but at the same time, their health is first," said Taneka Griffin Lindsey

"We love our children, and we want them to stay alive, we want them to be here, we want them to get a good education, but they can't do that if they're dead," said Sharon Winkfield.

"Make it make sense; that we're going to protect our kids. And until these kids are safe, my kids will be at home on remote learning," said Sonja Hammond.

CPS students will be marked absent if they don't attend class in-person, unless they tested positive for COVID, or were told to quarantine by the Chicago Department of Public Health.

While classes will resume Monday, CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez has said he is prepared to make any necessary changes at any schools that have high COVID cases.

Last month, Martinez said he expected the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff would go up during the winter break, and district officials are prepared to have more classes go remote if necessary.

Martinez said, by the third week of January, CPS expects to have a weekly supply of 10,000 tests for students who have been quarantined, so that they can return to class as soon as possible once they test negative for the virus.

While the district expects more classrooms to transition to remote learning after winter break, Martinez said he doesn't believe it's a viable option to move the entire district to remote learning anytime soon.

"We have no evidence that shutting down schools, whole systems, has done anything to counter the spread of the virus," he said. "What we have evidence is that, when we've done that, we've hurt children, we've hurt their mental health, we've hurt their social and emotional well-being, and we have hurt their academics in ways that we're still trying to understand today."

"Now, if the whole entire country shuts down, if the entire state and city shut down, I'm not going to put my families at risk. But short of that, I see it as we're going to be very granular, going school-by-school, classroom-by-classroom, and we will respond based on the information that we're seeing," he added.

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