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Park Manor Elementary School Staff Concerned About 'Exponential' Rise In COVID Cases; 'It's Scary'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Staff members at a South Side public school say COVID-19 is on the rise there, and Chicago Public Schools leadership is refusing to acknowledge the problem and failing to protect them.

Teachers and staff at Park Manor Elementary want more adequate testing, vaccinations for students and families, and clean facilities.

One staffer said the numbers at Park Manor Elementary are frightening.

"Since last Thursday, the cases have increased exponentially. Every day, another class or two are quarantined, another staff or two or three are positive. My principal is positive, and she's really sick right now. It's scary. It's stressful," said Shaneshia Bailey.

Chicago Teachers Union officials said the halls at Park Manor Elementary were "virtually empty" on Thursday, due to the number of students staying home. The union said five staff members and 11 students have tested positive for COVID-19 this week, and 174 out of 250 students are in quarantine.

"Yet CPS has refused to call an operational pause at the school to get control of cases, or acknowledge any concerns about the level of COVID at Park Manor," the union said in a press release. "That indifference from the mayor's CPS team is dangerous."

CTU said teachers and staff at Park Manor are concerned the district does not have a sufficient safety plan in place as cases are rising, including breakthrough cases. The union claims staff have reported problems with testing, incomplete or inadequate contact tracing, insufficient access to vaccines for students and families, and problems keeping the school clean because of a shortage of janitors.

CPS officials did not directly address the situation at Park Manor when asked for a response but said in-school transmission of the virus remains low district-wide.

CPS also said they are working with city and state health agencies "to ensure the safety of all students and staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic."

"As Chicago struggles through pandemic surge, so too does CPS. However, we know so much more now about what works than when the first wave began," CPS said in a statement. "Our pandemic health contingency plan is to double down on proven COVID-19 mitigation strategies: vaccination, testing, contact tracing. And when schools reopen on Jan. 3, all the other tried and true layers of protection will also be in place: universal masking; social distancing; strong hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; monitored and high indoor air quality; appropriately cleaned and disinfected spaces; and making certain staff and families know that sick people must stay home."

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