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Chicago parents frustration grows as schools remain closed

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is the fourth day of no classes for Chicago Public Schools students. District and city leaders and teachers are at odds over COVID safety plans and when to return to in-person learning. And Susie An of member station WBEZ reports, parents are also frustrated over having to juggle their home life with their kids not in school.

SUSIE AN, BYLINE: Parents say it's not about choosing sides but about coming to a quick resolution. And increasingly, they're venting their frustrations. This morning, about 20 parents and kids bundled up in subfreezing temperatures to rally outside of Philip Rodgers Fine Arts School on Chicago's far north side. To the tune of "When The Saints Go Marching In," they're saying kids should be back in school, and they'll be masked and tested weekly.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Oh, when the kids go back to school, they'll wear a mask and get tested weekly, when the kids go back to school.

AN: Parents are calling out both the school district and teachers union to end the stalemate. Parent Annie Gill-Bloyer says at this point, it feels like there's a power struggle with kids stuck in the middle.

ANNIE GILL-BLOYER: It never occurred to me that once my kids were vaccinated, the fact that they're testing weekly at school, they're, you know, staff in school are over 90% vaccinated, it just never occurred to me we'd be talking about going remote again.

AN: She says since last week, her family has relied on a patchwork of child care, reaching out to friends and having her in-laws come to town to watch her fifth and eighth-grader. She calls remote learning a disaster for her kids and says she'd rather not be part of that if that's the only option.

GILL-BLOYER: My kids are not going to participate in remote learning. It's not a worthwhile experience for our family. It's actually more destructive in the long run than it is helpful.

AN: Another parent, Goma Uraw, finds it hard to juggle her work as a maid while trying to care for her two kids at home. Her family immigrated here from Nepal and says her son and daughter, who has special needs, need to be in school because she doesn't have the English proficiency to help them learn at home.

GOMA URAW: Difficult to help him. That's the problem for us.

AN: At the other end of the school sidewalk, a group of teachers who want to work remotely until it's safe to return to school gather to pass out information. Music teacher Victoria Rosario says it was cordial between the parents and teachers, and she understands their frustration over remote learning. But she also points to some common ground.

VICTORIA ROSARIO: They also want testing and, you know, to encourage people to get vaccinated, and we feel the same way.

AN: But some parents are fully siding with the teachers union position on not returning yet. Parent and grandmother Wilma Pittman is a retired health care worker. She's concerned some schools just don't have the resources to keep kids safe from the latest COVID surge.

WILMA PITTMAN: I think it's better to do - for parents to sit in the house with their children doing remote learning than have to sit in the hospital with them.

AN: On the south side of the city, some parents say they just want their kids back to learning, whether it's in person or online. High school is a crucial time in a student's education, and some worry this may put college prospects at risk. Mother Cheri Warner has twin daughters at a Chicago high school. After enduring a lengthy teacher strike a couple of years ago, remote learning last year and now this, she's both frustrated and exhausted.

CHERI WARNER: My hope level is - I'm just hoping for the best outcome.

AN: She hopes that when students are finally back in school, they can not only be safe there but be able to fully make up for lost academic time.

For NPR News, I'm Susie An. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.