Chicago cancels school for 'Vaccination Awareness Day' leaving parents scrambling for childcare

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Chicago public schools cancelled classes for Nov. 12, declaring it “Vaccination Awareness Day” in an effort to increase the rate of vaccinations among eligible students. 

“Vaccination Awareness Day on Friday, November 12 is an opportunity for parents and guardians to take their children five years of age and older to get vaccinated at their pediatrician’s office, at a healthcare provider, or at a CPS school-based site or community vaccination event,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in an email to parents last week. The announcement comes after the FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine late last month for emergency use for children ages 5-11.

Parents were alerted to the cancellation of classes only a week before the day off, and the extra day off will effectively give staff and students a four-day weekend. The school district, the third largest in the nation, is already closed on Thursday for Veterans Day.

Some critics, both parents in the city and on social media, are slamming the rollout of the plan. 

“This could have been a really great thing if CPS planned it better,” Karen Jakacki Gonzales, mother of two CPS elementary students, told the Chicago Sun Times. “CVS can’t take all the Chicago Public Schools kids in one day.

“If CPS had offered on-campus vaccine clinics, it could have better served the students rather than being like, ‘Hey, we’re giving you a day off to go find a vaccine that’s in limited supply that your family, if you get an appointment, may have to travel a considerable distance to go get to that appointment,’” she said. “And especially if it’s someone who … is relying on public transportation, that’s going to be even harder.”

Supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union prepare for a car caravan, as negotiations with Chicago Public Schools continue over a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety plan agreement in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 30, 2021. REUTERS/Eileen T. Meslar

Chicago Teachers Union vice president Stacy Davis Gates also raised concerns about how the plan was rolled out. 

“If we are truly getting this day off for a vaccination day, which is a good idea, we’re going to have a comprehensive plan that includes communication, that includes transportation and that includes anchoring vaccination sites at all of our school communities,” she said in an interview, according to the Chicago Sun Times. “Anything short of that, this is a stunt.”

Twitter commenters meanwhile criticized how parents now have to scramble to find their kids childcare, noted that canceling classes on Nov. 12 gives teachers and students a four-day weekend, and suggested that Chicago should have followed New York City’s lead instead, by establishing vaccination sites in schools. 

In New York City, more than 1,000 vaccination sites will be set up this month, including within or outside schools, to help boost the vaccine rate among eligible students. There are so far no plans to cancel classes. Similar plans are being implemented in Ohio, Vermont and Portland, Oregon, the Associated Press reported

In Chicago, vaccination sites will be set up outside the schools on Friday and other clinics and local pharmacies are preparing for the patients. City workers will get two hours paid time off on Friday intended for them to help get their kids and other loved ones vaccinated.  

As for childcare, the YMCA announced a day of programs at all six of the organization’s Chicago locations if parents can’t stay home with them that day. Some museums and the aquarium will also offer free admission on Friday.  

FILE – This October 2021, photo provided by Pfizer shows kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Puurs, Belgium. (Pfizer via AP, File) 
(Pfizer via AP, File)

“The most important thing is we get these children vaccinated,” Lightfoot said when noting plans to “provide supports” for childcare.

Lightfoot’s office and the Chicago Teachers Union did not immediately respond to Fox News’ requests for comment on the concerns over childcare. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed her 2022 budget Monday, which boost funding for law enforcement. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago Teachers Union came under fierce criticism last year amid a bitter standoff over when to reopen the schools after they moved to remote learning during the height of the pandemic. Mayor Lori Lightfoot demanded schools go back to in-person learning in February. The union eventually struck a deal, but it has repeatedly floated returning to remote learning during the spike of the delta variant over the summer, as well as in April over vaccines.

“It is rare that we make a late change to the school calendar, but we see this as an important investment in the future of this school year and the health and wellbeing of our students, staff, and families,” Martinez added in his letter to families. “I hope you will strongly consider getting your children vaccinated on Vaccination Awareness Day.”

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