Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY NADER ISSA, ED­U­CA­TION RE­PORTER nissa@sun­times.com | @NaderDIssa

Chicago Pub­lic Schools par­ents are be­ing asked to de­cide in the next week whether to send their chil­dren to school part time this fall or keep them home with only one day of live in­struc­tion on­line.

The choice is a mon­u­men­tal one for most fam­i­lies as they fig­ure out how to bal­ance their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion with the health risks of gath­er­ing in groups dur­ing a deadly pan­demic. Yet it’s now one they have to make a month be­fore school would re­sume with­out know­ing the state of the virus in the city at that time, or ex­actly what the dis­trict’s fi­nal fall plan looks like.

Of­fi­cials sent mes­sages to par­ents Fri­day af­ter­noon re­veal­ing an Aug. 7 dead­line for that de­ci­sion, ex­plain­ing the dis­trict will need time to plan based on how many fam­i­lies de­cide to stick with re­mote learn­ing.

“The dis­trict’s ap­proach for de­liv­er­ing full-time home-based learn­ing will be tai­lored to the num­ber of fam­i­lies who choose this op­tion,” the email from CPS chief ex­ec­u­tive Janice Jack­son and ed­u­ca­tion chief LaTanya McDade read.

With lit­tle known about the di­rec­tion of the virus be­tween now and Sept. 8, when the school year is set to start, it may be tough for fam­i­lies to make an ed­u­cated de­ci­sion. CPS also on Fri­day held its last of five com­mu­nity meet­ings to take in­put on its fall frame­work, and is yet to is­sue its fi­nal plan for the fall.

CPS it­self has cited the un­pre­dictable na­ture of the virus in say­ing it won’t make a fi­nal an­nounce­ment on a re­turn to class­rooms un­til closer to the start of the school year.

Par­ents who de­cide their kids won’t be at­tend­ing school have to stick with that choice through the first quar­ter of the school year. Par­ents who pick the par­tial in-per­son op­tion can opt back out at any point.

For those pick­ing full-time re­mote learn­ing, CPS plans to of­fer live in­struc­tion only one day a week — Wed­nes­day, the same as stu­dents who’ll go to school twice a week. The dis­trict said at­ten­dance will still be tracked the other four days, and kids will be ex­pected to “en­gage in a min­i­mum of five hours of in­struc­tional ac­tiv­ity” those days.

“While they will only have live in­struc­tion one day a week, teach­ers will de­sign ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing pre-recorded les­sons, in­de­pen­dent work to build skills, and in­de­pen­dent projects con­nected to the cur­ricu­lum,” Jack­son and McDade wrote.

An­nette Sten­ner, who has twins go­ing into the third grade next year at Jamieson El­e­men­tary, said she was lean­ing to­ward keep­ing her kids in re­mote learn­ing be­cause of the health risks of go­ing back to school. But then she found out Fri­day that meant they would only have live in­ter­ac­tion with their teach­ers one day a week for a par­tial day.

“That just, to me, is not eq­ui­table for those that can­not go in per­son. It’s not giv­ing an eq­ui­table ed­u­ca­tion to those chil­dren,” she said. Sten­ner at­tended a CPS com­mu­nity meet­ing Fri­day and said she was grate­ful the dis­trict had put time and con­sid­er­a­tion into craft­ing the hy­brid model. But she said she felt pushed into the hy­brid op­tion be­cause al­most no de­tails have been shared about the fully re­mote choice, and she’d be pick­ing some­thing she knew lit­tle about.

Sten­ner said she’s now con­sid­er­ing pick­ing the hy­brid plan so she can leave her op­tions open be­tween now and the start of the school year. She said she thinks lots of par­ents will make that choice be­cause of the way CPS has struc­tured the de­ci­sion, and will un­in­ten­tion­ally leave the dis­trict scram­bling to ad­just if po­ten­tially thou­sands of par­ents opt out at the last minute.

“They are go­ing to get a skewed re­sult and then they’re go­ing to say, ‘Oh look what par­ents want,’” Sten­ner said. “But par­ents wouldn’t make those de­ci­sions that way if they had pro­vided us a bet­ter op­tion for learn­ing at home and more in­for­ma­tion about what that is go­ing to look like.”

Other par­ents raised their frus­tra­tions in a dis­cus­sion in the Face­book group for par­ent ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion Raise Your Hand.

“I’m up­set, an­gry, and frus­trated,” a mother wrote in the Raise Your Hand dis­cus­sion. “I un­der­stand the need for plan­ning time but par­ents need more in­for­ma­tion be­fore choos­ing . . . . And with the num­ber of new in­fec­tions in­creas­ing, a lot may change in a month.”

Janice Jack­son

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