Sep 23, 2021 - COVID

Chicago mayor passes the buck on CPS COVID plan

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks in front of a microphone

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference in 2020. Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will not take the blame for Chicago Public School's COVID-19 problems. She told Axios Chicago she's "deeply disappointed" in CPS leadership for its botched rollout of COVID protocols so far this year.

Why it matters: Since Mayor Daley took over CPS from the state in 1995, Chicago mayors have effectively run Chicago Public Schools, appointing CEOs and board presidents.

So on Tuesday morning, Justin had a question for the mayor: "Are you disappointed in yourself?"

  • Her response: "I don't run Chicago Public Schools on a daily basis. Obviously, there were issues with the way that the infrastructure was set up and the protocols that were done, and that's not acceptable. In fact, it's deeply disappointing to me."

Context: For weeks, parents and the Chicago Teachers Union have complained about bad communication, slow contact tracing, stalled testing and confusing protocols that have led to questions of accountability in a district that serves 341,000 students.

Lightfoot told Axios she's asked the city's health commissioner, Allison Arwady, to take the lead on a response "and really help form the basis for the protocols while CPS gets its infrastructure in place."

  • Meanwhile, Arwady painted a rosier picture this week. "I've seen nothing that makes me worried that schools are themselves driving community [COVID-19] rates, certainly not here in Chicago," she said Tuesday during her weekly online chat. "I think things broadly are going well."

By the numbers: CPS has reported 327 cases since the start of the school year. That's an infection rate of less than 1 in 1,000. But many parents and teachers have contested the accuracy of the CPS count.

The other side: The Chicago Teachers Union continues to criticize Lightfoot's handling of the situation.

  • "Not being prepared is something you (say) when your homework is missing," CTU Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates told WTTW earlier this week. "Not being prepared as a mayor who is in control of a school district during a pandemic is dangerous and deadly."
  • More CPS confusion: Late Wednesday night, Axios asked CDPH and CPS why the school district had subtracted numbers from its cumulative COVID count in the last day.  A CDPH spokesperson informed us this morning that some cases were "either reported more than once or were later withdrawn and are now removed from the total count." He also noted that the longtime communications director for CPS is now gone.

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