Monday marks the deadline for Chicago Public Schools parents to submit their preference on whether they plan to allow their children back in classrooms when in-person learning begins in January.
Parents must submit the "learning preference form" by midnight Monday, the district says, noting that parents who are undecided should select in-person learning and can change their decision later. But parents who choose to continue remote learning will not have the option to participate in in-person instruction until April, according to CPS.
The form is to allow the district to prepare for the number of students and staff returning to schools, CPS says. In-person instruction is scheduled to begin Jan. 11 for pre-K students and students enrolled in cluster programs. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade are slated to return Feb. 1.
Chicago Public Schools announced plans last month to resume in-person learning early next year, citing a “low incidence” of school-based transmission of coronavirus.
The plans were released on the same day that Illinois health officials issued new mitigation rules, stopping indoor sports and ordering the closure of casinos and museums. 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.
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.
The Chicago Teachers Union immediately criticized the district's proposal, 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.