Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY NADER ISSA, ED­U­CA­TION RE­PORTER nissa@sun­times.com | @NaderDIssa

The first of five com­mu­nity meet­ings hosted by Chicago Pub­lic Schools of­fi­cials about a po­ten­tial fall re­open­ing fea­tured hun­dreds of ques­tions from par­ents and teach­ers, many of which were steeped in skep­ti­cism over whether in-class­room learn­ing could be done safely in the mid­dle of a pan­demic.

Will there be more hand-wash­ing sta­tions at schools? What will hap­pen when a stu­dent tests pos­i­tive for COVID-19? Are teach­ers ex­pected to move be­tween “pods” of stu­dents? What type of in­struc­tion will stu­dents re­ceive when they opt out of in-per­son learn­ing?

Top CPS lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing CEO Jan­ice Jack­son, gave live an­swers to many ques­tions — though they only got to a frac­tion in the 45 min­utes set aside for a Q&A ses­sion, and there were many they couldn’t an­swer.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion about po­ten­tial cases at schools, CPS’ chief health of­fi­cer Ken­neth Fox said fam­i­lies will be ex­pected to self-re­port to the district’s Of­fice of Stu­dent Health and Well­ness, pro­vid­ing their symp­toms, not­ing when they first felt sick and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

The district would then gather in­for­ma­tion from that stu­dent’s school, such as which 15-stu­dent pod they were in, who else they had con­tact with and what part of the school they had been in. An en­tire pod would be sent home if one of its stu­dents tests pos­i­tive, and any­one di­rectly in con­tact with the pos­i­tive case would be told to quar­an­tine for 14 days.

Jen­nifer Lay­den, the deputy com­mis­sioner of the Chicago Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health, said the most com­mon form of COVID trans­mis­sion is through peo­ple liv­ing in the same house­hold.

In­fec­tion at schools, she ar­gued, would be less com­mon. At Vaughn Oc­cu­pa­tional, the spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion high school where CPS’ first con­firmed case popped up in March, there were no ad­di­tional cases found among 400 peo­ple who were tested there. But the school worker’s fam­ily mem­bers were in­fected.

CPS of­fi­cials said hand san­i­tiz­ing sta­tions would be placed at ev­ery school in the district, and teach­ers would move from one pod to the next to teach dif­fer­ent sub­jects and take a break. Teach­ers would also be given ex­tra prepa­ra­tion time on Wed­nes­days, the one full re­mote learn­ing day per week. Stu­dents who opt out of in-class­room learn­ing will re­ceive vir­tual in­struc­tion, CPS said, but the de­tails of that plan are still un­clear.

The debate over in-per­son in­struc­tion has raged in the past week af­ter Mayor Lori Light­foot and CPS of­fi­cials un­veiled their “pre­lim­i­nary frame­work” that would put most stu­dents in school two days a week in the fall. The Chicago Teach­ers Union has crit­i­cized that plan, call­ing in­stead for full re­mote learn­ing to avoid risk of virus out­breaks. CPS has said a fi­nal call won’t be made un­til later in Au­gust.

Jack­son said Mon­day that she hears those con­cerns, but of­fi­cials still have to sort through the lo­gis­tics of in-class­room learn­ing be­cause a plan to go back to school is go­ing to be nec­es­sary even­tu­ally.

“At some point — it might not be to­day, it might not be on Sept. 8 — but at some point we’re go­ing to have to start talk­ing about bring­ing kids back into a school set­ting over the next two years,” Jack­son said af­ter point­ing out that wide­spread COVID-19 vac­ci­na­tion likely won’t hap­pen for at least an­other year or longer.

“So no one is say­ing it’s a per­fect op­tion. All of us know that it’s not safe in our en­vi­ron­ment and that COVID is a risk. But we do know a heck of a lot more to­day than we did back in March about how to do that safely, and that’s what we’re talk­ing about to­day.”

Mon­day’s meet­ing did not in­clude a tra­di­tional pub­lic com­ment op­por­tu­nity. Par­tic­i­pants were in­stead asked to send their ques­tions through a typed chat sec­tion on the vir­tual call. Four more meet­ings are sched­uled, one each day this week, with two in Span­ish and two in English.

Jack­son be­came frus­trated at one point in the Q&A ses­sion, ask­ing meet­ing par­tic­i­pants to be more re­spect­ful and not be “rude” in the on­line chat af­ter some in­sults were lobbed at CPS of­fi­cials.

At the start of the meet­ing, the 1,500 par­tic­i­pants on the vir­tual call were asked to take a poll on their com­fort level with CPS’ plan. Of the 1,500 par­tic­i­pants, 67% said they were “not com­fort­able at all” or “some­what not com­fort­able” with the district’s re­open­ing plan. By the end, that had moved to 65%. More than 50 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants re­ported be­ing from the North or North­west sides, with 71 per­cent in­di­cat­ing they were par­ents or rel­a­tives and 23 per­cent in­di­cat­ing they were ed­u­ca­tors.


CPS held a meet­ing about the fall se­mes­ter Mon­day.

Jan­ice Jack­son

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