Pedro Martinez is leaving San Antonio to go Chicago’s schools chief. He weighs successful connected his battles with Gov. Greg Abbott and wherefore helium believes a pupil vaccine mandate should beryllium “on the table.”
Sept. 24, 2021, 5:53 p.m. ET
For months, Pedro Martinez has been locked successful a governmental conflict implicit the information of schools successful Texas. As the superintendent successful San Antonio, helium defied Gov. Greg Abbott by issuing a disguise mandate successful schools. He was the lone superintendent of a large Texas schoolhouse territory to necessitate schoolhouse employees to beryllium vaccinated, prompting a lawsuit from the Texas lawyer general.
Now, Mr. Martinez, 51, is heading to a much like-minded environment. He volition pb Chicago Public Schools, the 3rd largest schoolhouse strategy successful the state — 1 that already mandates vaccines for employees, and requires masks successful the classroom.
We caught up with Mr. Martinez connected Friday for a wide-ranging speech astir his narration with Governor Abbott, his presumption connected vaccine mandates for students and his homecoming to Chicago, wherever helium grew up. The interrogation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You were astatine the halfway of immoderate of the biggest governmental fights implicit schools successful Texas during the pandemic. Can you locomotion america done immoderate of what happened down the scenes?
We started the authoritative archetypal time of schoolhouse connected Aug. 9. We had much cases successful the archetypal week of schoolhouse than we had successful immoderate week during past year’s pandemic. That instantly frightened us. The bulk of them were students. And adjacent erstwhile we looked astatine the staff, we were starting to spot breakthrough cases of vaccinated staff. So that’s what drove our determination to archetypal person a disguise mandate, and past we followed it up with a vaccine mandate.
I decided to bash the vaccine mandate due to the fact that the politician wouldn’t let maine to inquire for vaccination impervious for my staff. I said, we can’t negociate done this pandemic if I don’t adjacent person the basal information. To this date, we are the lone territory successful Texas that has had this vaccine mandate. We are inactive warring successful court. So far, I’ve lone had 10 unit retired of 8,000 that person said, “I’m not going to get a vaccine.” We bash person astir 120 requests for exemptions for either aesculapian oregon religious, but again, that is retired of 8,000 employees.
Did you conscionable with Governor Abbott implicit the past twelvemonth and half?
We were each successful a pandemic. There was precise small done successful presumption of interaction. I person a immense respect for the state acquisition commissioner. He and I person a large relationship. I was ever giving him a heads up whenever we were going to bash something. But different than that, I ne'er had immoderate nonstop interaction with the governor.
Did the governmental situation play a origin successful your determination to leave?
No, not astatine all. Not truthful overmuch astir Covid. One of the factors that did play successful maine going backmost to Chicago, not lone is it my hometown, but erstwhile I met Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I recovered that her values were aligned. She is simply a champion for our children successful poverty, she is simply a champion for our children of color.
The past clip we spoke, you expressed a request for “bold leadership” astir coronavirus vaccines. So far, conscionable 1 ample schoolhouse territory — Los Angeles Unified — has required vaccines for students. Do you program to mandate vaccines for students successful Chicago?
It’s 1 of the things I truly privation to explore. I genuinely judge that should beryllium done astatine the nationalist level. If it is simply a satellite situation — I don’t deliberation it should beryllium astatine the territory level. We each cognize however important it is to person children successful idiosyncratic successful school. We all, for the astir part, hold connected that. So wherefore shouldn’t determination beryllium immoderate bold enactment astatine the nationalist level?
Have you talked to the acquisition secretary, Miguel Cardona, oregon the White House?
I person talked to their staff, but I volition archer you, I volition beryllium talking to Secretary Cardona today. He is calling maine to invited maine to Chicago.
Will you beryllium bringing it up?
Yes I am.
Just to beryllium clear: Are you a proponent of pupil vaccine mandates successful Chicago?
I deliberation it should beryllium connected the table.
One of your biggest challenges successful Chicago volition beryllium navigating a contentious relationship betwixt your caller boss, Mayor Lightfoot, and the Chicago Teachers Union. What bash you spot arsenic the large disagreements successful that dispute? What bash you personally program to bash to assistance resoluteness that?
I americium not naïve. I cognize determination are immoderate governmental divides that tally precise deep. But erstwhile it comes to, for example, the information of our children, our children being successful schoolhouse successful person, our schools being safe, determination has to beryllium communal crushed there.
You volition beryllium the archetypal Latino main enforcement of Chicago Public Schools, wherever Hispanic students marque up nearly fractional of the pupil body. What is your connection to them?
The magnitude of pridefulness that I’ve seen, it’s conscionable been precise humbling for me. Chicago is simply a large migrant family. There has been a batch of outreach from antithetic families sharing their pride, and schools asking maine to travel sojourn with their children.
I privation to beryllium precise clear. I americium going to beryllium precise assertive successful my outreach to the African American community. The African American assemblage successful Chicago has ever felt that they are frankly, second- oregon third-class citizens. I request to marque definite coming in — whether I americium Latino oregon not — to nonstop a wide connection that I americium going to bash everything successful my powerfulness to guarantee determination is equity. I americium going to beryllium the champion for each children.
On a idiosyncratic note, I’ve work that you person 3 sisters who are teachers successful Chicago Public Schools, and you person thing similar 30 nieces and nephews successful the system.
With my children, determination are full of 30 grandchildren — 28 nephews and nieces. Some are babies and are aboriginal C.P.S. students, immoderate are presently successful C.P.S. arsenic students today, and immoderate are really graduates already.
So however bash your sisters consciousness astir their member becoming their caller boss?
They are precise proud, and I volition conscionable accidental this: they are staunch, staunch national supporters. One of my sisters had to support maine due to the fact that it got a small antagonistic successful the C.T.U. Facebook website. My sister had to talk up and say, look, fto maine stock with you who my member is. I really raised my 2 younger sisters — 1 of my siblings died successful a car mishap and it conscionable decimated my parents — truthful I raised them from a young age. One of them isa kindergarten teacher and a staunch national supporter. She made it wide successful her connection that she’s each astir the national — and successful information she said, look, I’ll assistance you clasp him accountable — but springiness him a chance.
My colleagues successful the Chicago bureau archer maine I would beryllium remiss if I didn’t inquire this: Cubs oregon White Sox?
I americium a Sox instrumentality due to the fact that I grew up with my dada going to Comiskey Park. Three dollars successful the bleachers, and it was ever connected bat day, oregon headdress day.
Deep crockery oregon tavern-style pizza?
I similar both, but I volition accidental I similar the tavern-style pizza.
We are successful a captious infinitesimal successful education, with truthful galore cardinal children needing support. If you could question a magic wand today, what bash you deliberation is needed successful this moment?
What I privation is if I could region the anxiousness of our unit and parents. Last twelvemonth was a hard twelvemonth for everyone. A batch of intelligence wellness challenges. I americium gladsome that schools are unfastened this twelvemonth and that classrooms person each of our children, but the anxiousness is inactive there. That’s wherefore I person been lobbying and advocating for more, bolder enactment astatine the nationalist level, particularly astir vaccines.
We don’t cognize yet the ramifications that person occurred due to the fact that of this pandemic to our children successful poorness and of color. For example, my people of 2020, galore of the children really enactment connected clasp their assemblage plans. We partnered with the metropolis of San Antonio, and we’ve been capable to reconnect hundreds of my graduates to marque definite they spell to college. But it took america having lawsuit managers. So I worry. How galore students are successful limbo due to the fact that they decided to postpone college? What are the ramifications?