Chicago Public Schools announced plans to resume in-person learning early next year, citing a “low incidence” of school-based transmission of coronavirus, but the Chicago Teachers Union immediately blasted the proposal.
According to information released by CPS Tuesday, the district plans to resume limited in-person classes on Jan. 11, and all kindergarten through eighth grade classes will restart on Feb. 1.
The plans were released on the same day that state health officials issued new mitigation rules, stopping indoor sports and ordering the closure of casinos and museums beginning on Friday. The new rules also come with restrictions on gathering sizes, but the mitigation strategies do not involve any change to school policies, which are being left up to individual boards of education around the state.
Marisol Gutierrez, a mother of five children in the CPS system, says that remote learning has not worked for her children, and says she’s hopeful that her kids will benefit from a potential return to the classroom.
“It’s long overdue,” she said. “Get these kids in school safely, even if it’s a couple of days in school and a couple of remote learning days. I have different age ranges and they’re not learning. It’s physically exhausting for them to sit six-plus hours in front of a computer.”
In their email explaining the new policy, CPS officials insist that in-person learning will ensure equitable access to instruction, and that the highest-need learners, as well as many children whose parents are essential workers, need support from safely opened schools.
To do that, CPS will begin to allow pre-K and cluster program students to return to classrooms on Jan. 11, then will begin phasing in children from kindergarten through eighth grade on Feb. 1.
While mother Tearnye Williams says that she doesn’t get to work from home, she is still concerned about the safety of her kids.
“I don’t want the risk of my children getting sick, so I’m not leaning towards it until they know for a fact that they have got it handled completely,” she said. “I don’t want my children going back because they can be carriers and not even know it.”
The Chicago Teachers Union echoed similar concerns, saying that the decision to re-open schools was made without input from critical stakeholders, and suggested that the move was made based on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s political agenda, not on feedback from experts.
“Today’s announcement appears to be based on the mayor’s political agenda, because it sure isn’t based on science,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. “Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster.”
CPS officials insist that their decision to resume in-person learning is based on data that shows the incidence of transmission of the virus is low in classrooms and school settings.
Officials say the district will require face coverings, use of learning pods, daily temperature and health screenings and extra deep cleaning and sanitation practices, among other safety protocols.
School-based staff members will be tested regularly through a surveillance testing plan, according to CPS.