CHICAGO — Parents and local leaders are raising questions about Chicago’s public school system for tracking COVID-19 cases, with some saying officials are misleading the public about how the pandemic is affecting students, teachers and the staff of the nation’s third-largest school district.

CPS officials denied any wrongdoing and defended their methodology on Friday, but at least two aldermen want an investigation into the district’s COVID-19 dashboard following a data analysis by Jakob Ondrey, CPS parent and cloud engineer.

The district is tracking coronavirus cases and the number of people in isolation or quarantine by district and school.

Ondrey has been closely tracking COVID-19 cases in Chicago public schools since February 2021 through its own portal, called the Chicago Public Schools COVID-19 Case Tracker.

Until earlier this month, Ondrey said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the district closely correlated to cases reported at individual schools. But after students returned from winter vacation, these trends began to diverge.

Cases reported to the district no longer appeared on school dashboards, Ondrey said. When doing a day-to-day analysis, Ondrey said he found dozens, if not hundreds, of cases reported to the district that were not attributed to their schools.

The finding matches what some CPS parents have been going through in recent weeks: they receive emails about COVID-19 cases at their children’s schools – but those cases don’t show up on the district’s dashboard .

That, Ondrey said, made it look like there were fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 in individual schools as Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Department of Public Health battled. with the Chicago Teachers Union about school safety during the pandemic, resulting in several days of classes being canceled.

In a statement on Friday afternoon, CPS spokeswoman Mary Ann Fergus said the discrepancy was easily explained and would be resolved.

Fergus said the district uses two main sources of data to populate its COVID-19 dashboard. The data includes open cases – those that have yet to be confirmed – and closed cases – those that have been verified by contact tracers.

The CPS was only reporting open cases at the school level until the winter break, Fergus said. But on Dec. 20, the district moved to publishing only closed cases to “provide a more accurate count of positive and confirmed closed cases and to protect the privacy of our students and staff, particularly at some of our facilities. schools where the number of cases was very low and there was subsequent speculation about the health status of specific individuals,” she said.

But now, “in light of the rise of Omicron and in the interest of greater transparency,” district officials are considering reporting open and closed cases at the school level, Fergus said. .

The district is also offering “paid opportunities” for CPS staff members to help with contact tracing, with the goal of closing cases faster and helping parents make safe and informed choices, Fergus said.

In response, Ondrey asked why the district hadn’t announced that it was reporting the numbers differently for several weeks.

Earlier Friday, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) tweeted that the allegations were “serious enough to warrant an official response from Chicago Public Schools.” Aldus. Maria Hadden (49th) also tweeted that she wanted an explanation from the district.

Reached by phone, Hopkins said he submitted an investigation to district officials Friday morning.

“If we can’t trust the data that is provided under the guise of objectivity, then people can’t make decisions based on anything. It forces parents to make the call to send their kids back to school, it puts them in an untenable position,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said providing reliable, objective data is critical — not just when it comes to schools, but in many other facets of daily life as the pandemic rages.

“When we have in-person meetings, when it’s safe to go to a Bulls game, to be in a big crowd… hospitalization analysis – all of those things are data points that come from hundreds of different directions and people don’t have time to sort it all out,” he said.

“We in government are obligated to come up with reports that we can agree on and that work so people can make decisions at their personal comfort level.”

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