WEST TOWN — With Chicago Public Schools closed Monday and again Tuesday, aldermen proposed different approaches to ease the strain on working parents.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) pointed to how CPS will now have been closed four days this month due to weather difficulties, and said he's received complaints from working parents wondering what to do with their children. He proposed CPS offer "skeletal care" for children, just to give them a place to go, even though such a change in policy would likely require changes in the Chicago Teachers Union contract.
Yet Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) countered, "School is not a baby-sitting apparatus."
She said it was "a good call" to close schools with the frigid temperatures Monday and Tuesday, but added that a policy change to accommodate working parents would be unwieldy.
"There's way too many questions," Thomas said, wondering whether a program would be all-day or only part of the day; whether some teachers or all teachers would have to take part; and what would be the process and time window for parents dropping off and picking up kids.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) suggested the Chicago Park District could be assigned to pick up some of the slack for working parents.
In fact, CPS formally advises parents: "For families seeking alternative youth programs and services, all Chicago Park District facilities will be open during normal operating hours. These times vary, please check hours for specific parks on the Park District website or by calling the specific park."
The Chicago Teachers Union was no more receptive to a change in policy.
"We're sensitive to the needs of parents who don’t have a lot of child-care options," said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. "However, when our students are in front of our members, they receive instructional services."
CTU placed the blame for many of the problems associated with snow days squarely on CPS.
"It is unfortunate that CPS doesn’t provide transportation for students unless they are special needs or more than eight miles from their campus," Gadlin said.
She said that "CTU called for transportation services for all students impacted by school closings."
CPS spokesman Joel Hood responded that the notion of kids waiting for school buses rather than walking likely would have had no effect on the decision to close schools.
When or whether the cold days from this week will be made up hasn't been determined.
CPS elementary students have to make up the missed day on Jan. 6 by attending school March 28, which originally was a non-attendance day. To make up the Jan. 7 off day, students will have to go to school an extra day in June — meaning their summer break will be one day shorter and won't start until June 12.
CTU officials have suggested CPS doesn't have to make up the dates, as with the expanded school calendar pushed through by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year the district has already scheduled more than the state minimum.
"From that standpoint, they're correct. We're not required to make up those dates," Hood said. "These are still two days kids are not in class that we'd like them to be in class." He expected the dates to be rescheduled.
CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett said that "discussions regarding the makeup days are underway and will be announced as soon as finalized."
The three aldermen made the comments after a roundtable Monday at the West Town branch library that included Mayor Emanuel and touted gains made by tutoring and mentoring programs for high school freshmen.