CPS says most stu­dents will be in class 2 days a week, but ju­niors and se­niors will be fully re­mote


Most Chicago Pub­lic Schools stu­dents are set to re­turn to class­rooms two days a week this fall un­der a ten­ta­tive plan that still in­cludes part-time re­mote learn­ing months af­ter ef­forts to slow the spread of the coro­n­avirus forced the clo­sure of schools in an un­prece­dented dis­rup­tion to ed­u­ca­tion.

The par­tial re­turn for the ma­jor­ity of the 300,000 stu­dents at non­char­ter schools means many of the same chal­lenges re­main for fam­i­lies and staff who are con­cerned about their health, stu­dents in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and work­ing-class par­ents who will con­tinue scram­bling to find re­li­able child care on the days their chil­dren are not in school.

City of­fi­cials say they are im­ple­ment­ing strin­gent health pro­to­cols at their more than 500 schools — a re­quire­ment most par­ents and teach­ers re­quested to sup­port the plan — such as daily tem­per­a­ture checks, univer­sal mask­ing and rou­tine clean­ing with the help of 400 new jan­i­tors. They also call for so­cial dis­tanc­ing “to the great­est ex­tent pos­si­ble,” and are keep­ing high school ju­niors and se­niors in full-time re­mote learn­ing to lessen crowd­ing. Fam­i­lies with stu­dents of all ages will be al­lowed to opt out of in-per­son school­ing for any rea­son.

Even so, the city’s top pub­lic health of­fi­cial warned that COVID-19 cases at schools will be “in­evitable” and that the Chicago De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health would not hes­i­tate to rec­om­mend fur­ther school clo­sures.

Mayor Lori Light­foot and CPS of­fi­cials call the plan a “pre­lim­i­nary frame­work” that could change based on how the rag­ing pan­demic evolves be­tween now and early Septem­ber “THIS MODEL AL­LOWS MANY OF OUR STU­DENTS TO REAP THE BEN­E­FITS THEY CAN ONLY ACHIEVE THROUGH IN-PER­SON IN­STRUC­TION IN FRONT OF A HIGHLY QUAL­I­FIED TEACHER. THERE


when schools will open their doors. She added that it’s “just the be­gin­ning of this con­ver­sa­tion” as the dis­trict has sched­uled five com­mu­nity meet­ings at the end of this month to take feed­back from par­ents, stu­dents and staff.

“I want to take this op­por­tu­nity to make it clear to ev­ery par­ent up front that there will be op­tions for you,” the mayor said at a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the plan. “What­ever hap­pens, and what­ever form this chal­lenge takes, I want ev­ery­one to know that ed­u­ca­tion will hap­pen this fall. School will hap­pen

this fall.”

Light­foot said the city is look­ing into op­tions for child care sim­i­lar to the plan an­nounced by New York City Mayor Bill de Bla­sio that will pro­vide free ser­vices for par­ents of 100,000 stu­dents in that city. NYC and Chicago, home to the coun­try’s first- and third-largest pub­lic dis­tricts in the na­tion, have for now con­tained their COVID-19 out­breaks and are among the na­tion’s only ma­jor ci­ties plan­ning to bring stu­dents back to school. Los An­ge­les, San Diego and Hous­ton — which have seen surges in virus in­fec­tions — have de­fied Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy Devos’ wishes and an­nounced they will keep school build­ings closed for now.

Light­foot said she’s not wor­ried about a le­gal chal­lenge or an­other strike from one of her big­gest po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, the Chicago Teach­ers Union, which has called for full re­mote learn­ing to start the fall. The mayor said she be­lieves any dif­fer­ences will be sorted out be­tween now and the start of school.

Both sides ac­knowl­edge full re­mote learn­ing doesn’t pro­vide the same qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion as nor­mal school­ing no mat­ter the plan­ning that goes into it, but the union has said it re­mains the safer op­tion. CTU lead­er­ship has sug­gested teach­ers could refuse to go to work if they don’t have health and safety guar­an­tees, rais­ing the prospect of an­other po­ten­tial walk­out months af­ter the 11-day teach­ers strike last fall. On Fri­day, the union im­me­di­ately crit­i­cized the plan as be­ing “sim­ply too dan­ger­ous for stu­dents, ed­u­ca­tors and their fam­i­lies to at­tend school in per­son.”

“This will in­evitably place stu­dents and ed­u­ca­tors at risk of ex­po­sure. In a school dis­trict where 8 out of 10 stu­dents come from Black and Latino com­mu­ni­ties that have been hard­est hit by the pan­demic, the de­ci­sion to re­turn chil­dren and ed­u­ca­tors to the class­room has the po­ten­tial to fur­ther in­flame the pan­demic in our city,” the union said in a state­ment.

‘Flex­i­ble and ca­pa­ble’

Jan­ice Jack­son, the chief ex­ec­u­tive at CPS, said the dis­trict tried to make a plan that’s “flex­i­ble and ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing high-qual­ity in­struc­tion whether stu­dents are learn­ing from home or at school.”

“This model al­lows many of our stu­dents to reap the ben­e­fits they can only achieve through in­per­son in­struc­tion in front of a highly qual­i­fied teacher,” Jack­son said. “There is no re­plac­ing a lov­ing teacher and learn­ing with your friends.”

As it stands, about half of CPS stu­dents will be in schools on any given day. Most teach­ers and staff will be in schools at least four days a week.

Half of kinder­garten through 10th grade stu­dents will at­tend school Mon­days and Tues­days, and the other half will at­tend Thurs­days and Fri­days. Wed­nes­days will fea­ture vir­tual lessons while schools are dis­in­fected be­tween co­horts. Kids will be given as­sign­ments to com­plete in­de­pen­dently on the other two days they’re at home.

Re­mote learn­ing, even half the week, is likely to re­main a chal­lenge. Four in 10 CPS stu­dents took part in on­line learn­ing two days a week or fewer in the spring, dis­trict data showed. While CPS has said al­most all stu­dents now have some type of com­puter at home, in­ter­net — espe­cially a re­li­able con­nec­tion — has been harder to come by. The city, through pri­vate donors, has pledged to hook up fam­i­lies with free broad­band. But it’s un­clear how many stu­dents still don’t have ser­vice at home.

At school, stu­dents will be split up into groups of 15, with each “pod” stay­ing in an as­signed class­room with as­signed seat­ing in desks placed at least six feet apart “where fea­si­ble,” the dis­trict said. The smaller pods, down from the usual class sizes of around 30, will al­low for eas­ier iso­la­tion and con­tact trac­ing if a stu­dent comes down with the coro­n­avirus, of­fi­cials said.

The plan made no men­tion of lunch or re­cess pe­ri­ods, only say­ing each pod will use a des­ig­nated bath­room, but Jack­son said stu­dents might go to a lunch­room or gym­na­sium at some point in the day. Light­foot and Jack­son ac­knowl­edged keep­ing masks on the youngest ele­men­tary stu­dents for six hours a day would be a chal­lenge, but ar­gued chil­dren learn

quickly to ad­just.

The old­est stu­dents, high school ju­niors and se­niors, will con­tinue full-time re­mote learn­ing, which keeps an­other 50,000 peo­ple out of build­ings to al­low for eas­ier so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

Stu­dents in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion clus­ter pro­grams will be in school full-time. Other chil­dren en­rolled in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and English learn­ers will be pri­or­i­tized for in­per­son learn­ing if an in­di­vid­ual school has the space and staffing, the dis­trict said. Both half- and full­day preschool pro­grams will also be in class­rooms full-time. Buses will run their reg­u­lar routes, of­fi­cials said, with some ad­just­ments to al­low for so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

“Schools will have a tremen­dous amount of flex­i­bil­ity to make sure that the plan that is cho­sen makes sense for their par­tic­u­lar school com­mu­nity,” Light­foot said.

Any fam­i­lies, whether they have un­der­ly­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions or not, can opt out of in-per­son learn­ing, of­fi­cials said. Staff with med­i­cal or care­tak­ing con­cerns will have to re­quest a leave of ab­sence or an­other ac­com­mo­da­tion through a process that will be­come avail­able later this month.

The teach­ers union crit­i­cized CPS for not hir­ing ad­di­tional teach­ers and sup­port staff to sub­sti­tute out em­ploy­ees who have med­i­cal con­cerns.

Jack­son said CPS will ac­com­mo­date those with con­cerns, but she’s not wor­ried about hun­dreds or thou­sands of the dis­trict’s 31,000 school-based em­ploy­ees call­ing out sick.

“The ex­pec­ta­tion will be that every­body else comes to work,” she said.

1.2 mil­lion masks, 42,000 hand san­i­tizer dis­pensers

The city says it has bought 1.2 mil­lion re­us­able cloth face masks for stu­dents and staff mem­bers and 40,000 con­tain­ers of dis­in­fec­tant wipes for schools. The dis­trict is also pledg­ing to put 42,000 hand san­i­tizer dis­pensers in class­rooms and high-traf­fic ar­eas, and to hand out 22,000 touch­less ther­mome­ters for health screen­ings.

To sup­port in­creased dis­in­fect­ing sched­ules, CPS says it is also hir­ing 400 cus­to­di­ans who will be em­ployed by the dis­trict, not the pri­vate ven­dor that is con­tracted for usual clean­ing ser­vices.

Jack­son said the dis­trict is us­ing $75 mil­lion in emer­gency coro­n­avirus re­sponse fund­ing ap­proved by the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to pay for the ad­di­tional re­sources. An­other $205 mil­lion in fed­eral emer­gency coro­n­avirus re­lief will be used, and Jack­son said she’s ex­pect­ing ad­di­tional dol­lars from Congress in the weeks to come.

Ali­son Ar­wady, the city’s pub­lic health com­mis­sioner and a li­censed pe­di­a­tri­cian, said she sup­ports the hy­brid plan that in­cludes part-time in-school learn­ing be­cause “our lo­cal out­break re­mains broadly in con­trol in Chicago.”

“We think it’s a good bal­ance be­tween mit­i­gat­ing risk and re­ally meet­ing the needs of stu­dents,” the health com­mis­sioner said. “Kids need in­ter­ac­tion for healthy de­vel­op­ment. Younger chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar just do not learn as well through screens.”


Mayor Lori Light­foot lis­tens as Chicago Pub­lic Schools CEO Dr. Jan­ice Jack­son speaks Fri­day. The mayor and Jack­son an­nounced re­open­ing plans for pub­lic schools in the fall.


Stacy Davis Gates, vice pres­i­dent of the Chicago Teach­ers Union, speaks last month dur­ing a rally in the Loop to call for the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to end a $33 mil­lion con­tract be­tween CPS and Chicago po­lice. The union says CPS’ re­open­ing plan is too dan­ger­ous for teach­ers and stu­dents.

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