DIS­AP­POINT­MENT, RE­LIEF, UN­CER­TAINTY

CPS stu­dents, teach­ers and par­ents have mixed re­ac­tions to on­line school this fall

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23

Ne­sean Smith’s fall of his se­nior year at Mor­gan Park High School was sup­posed to be full of mem­o­ries he’s been look­ing for­ward to since he was a fresh­man: foot­ball sea­son, home­com­ing and en­joy­ing the last year of high school with his friends.

In­stead, Smith, 16, of the South Side, will log onto school vir­tu­ally Sept. 8, since Chicago Pub­lic Schools an­nounced the en­tire first quar­ter will be com­pletely on­line.

“I didn’t re­ally want it to hap­pen, but I knew it would hap­pen,” Smith said. “Most peo­ple pre­fer learn­ing in per­son over Zoom calls.”

CPS and Mayor Lori Light­foot an­nounced Wed­nes­day schools will re­main closed be­gin­ning Sept. 8 through at least the end of the first quar­ter, Nov. 6. Many teach­ers and par­ents are re­lieved about the de­ci­sion in light of wors­en­ing COVID-19 con­di­tions.

But with just over a month be­fore school starts, teach­ers are scram­bling to cre­ate ro­bust on­line cur­ricu­lums, par­ents are nav­i­gat­ing full-time jobs with kids at home and stu­dents are an­tic­i­pat­ing miss­ing out on ev­ery­thing in-per­son ed­u­ca­tion has to of­fer.

‘My ed­u­ca­tion mat­ters’

Pey­ton Wil­liams, a ris­ing se­nior at South Shore In­ter­na­tional Col­lege Prepara­tory High School, said after how much she strug­gled to do on­line school in the spring, she knows she’ll be miss­ing out aca­dem­i­cally this fall.

“My ed­u­ca­tion mat­ters,” said Wil­liams, 16, of Beverly. “While I was do­ing vir­tual learn­ing, it felt as if it didn’t mean any­thing . ... I hon­estly felt as if I wasn’t learn­ing.”

Ernest Smith, Ne­sean Smith’s fa­ther, has three other chil­dren who will be at­tend­ing CPS this fall: a sopho­more at Ken­wood Academy High School, an eighth grader at Dixon El­e­men­tary School and a first grader at Pirie Fine Arts and Aca­demic Cen­ter.

Though he un­der­stands the district’s health con­cerns, Ernest Smith said CPS’ de­ci­sion brought “shock” and “dis­ap­point­ment” when he thinks about how it’ll af­fect his chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

“We’re going to do our part as par­ents to fill in blanks as best as we can,” said Smith, 38, of the

South Side. “But stu­dents need in­ter­ac­tions. That’s how they grow and prop­erly de­velop.”

Mar­garet Heller’s son will be in first grade at Hayt El­e­men­tary School in Edge­wa­ter. Heller was al­ready plan­ning on opt­ing for all re­mote classes for her 6-year-old, who is par­tic­i­pat­ing in a clin­i­cal trial in Columbus, Ohio, for a con­gen­i­tal con­di­tion.

Still, Heller said she’s wor­ried about the so­cial­iza­tion her son’s miss­ing out on.

“It’s not even school, so much, that’s im­por­tant to me — it’s that he has a life­long love of learn­ing,” said Heller, 36, of Edge­wa­ter. “He’s miss­ing out on a lot of other as­pects of be­ing in school.”

Work­ing full time, Heller plans to take a cou­ple vacation days to help get her son set­tled with on­line school, at which point she hopes she can take a back seat and still get her work done.

Teach­ers re­lieved

Be­fore CPS de­cided to go com­pletely vir­tual, many ed­u­ca­tors felt their lives hung in the bal­ance, as re­turn­ing to school meant risk­ing ex­po­sure to the virus.

Dwayne Reed, a fourth and fifth grade English and Lan­guage Arts teacher at a CPS school on the South Side, felt like he was fac­ing a “death sen­tence” if he had to re­turn to the class­room.

“It’s a re­lief to me as an ed­u­ca­tor be­cause I’m not be­ing forced any longer to choose be­tween my life and my liveli­hood,” said Reed, 29, of the West Side. “I no longer have to choose be­tween what I’ve been do­ing for the last few years — lov­ing the chil­dren and fam­i­lies of CPS — and keeping my­self alive.”

Re­turn­ing to the class­room this fall could put Hi­lario Dominguez’s health at risk. The 27-year-old special ed­u­ca­tion teacher at Peter Cooper Dual Lan­guage Academy on the Lower West Side is im­muno­com­pro­mised be­cause he has asthma.

Dominguez, of Pilsen, said it’s “about time” CPS made its de­ci­sion.

“We could have and should have been spend­ing more time work­ing on a ro­bust learn­ing plan in­stead of fight­ing for our lives,” said Dominguez. “I’d rather not take a vic­tory lap. There’s much more work to do.”

On­line learn­ing comes with unique chal­lenges, es­pe­cially for stu­dents who are on in­di­vid­u­al­ized ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram (IEP) or 504 plans, which pro­vide learn­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions to stu­dents, said Dominguez. Stu­dents who strug­gle to stay on-task in the class­room have an even harder time do­ing so vir­tu­ally, Dominguez said.

De­spite the chal­lenges, many teach­ers rec­og­nize school health and safety as a No. 1 pri­or­ity.

“I know that re­mote learn­ing is not as good for [stu­dents] aca­dem­i­cally or so­cially-emo­tion­ally,” said Sarah How­land, 31, of Lo­gan Square, who’s a sec­ond grade teacher at Bate­man El­e­men­tary School. “But I feel like we haven’t as a city and a state and a coun­try pri­or­i­tized what we would need to do to go back into schools safely.”

“IT’S NOT EVEN SCHOOL, SO MUCH, THAT’S IM­POR­TANT TO ME — IT’S THAT HE HAS A LIFE­LONG LOVE OF LEARN­ING. HE’S MISS­ING OUT ON A LOT OF OTHER AS­PECTS OF BE­ING IN SCHOOL.” MAR­GARET HELLER, whose son will be in first grade at Hayt El­e­men­tary School in Edge­wa­ter

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Dwayne Reed, 29, a CPS teacher, poses for a por­trait in the Near West Side after CPS an­nounced that stu­dents will be at­tend­ing classes re­motely in the fall to pre­vent the spread of COVID-19.

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