The Archdiocese of Chicago on Friday announced its plan to reopen schools in the fall, allowing students to return to classrooms for in-person instruction.
The plan includes measures like mandatory face masks for students over the age of 2, student "cohorts," temperature checks and the option to continue online learning.
“We live in extraordinary times and it is our intent to reopen our school buildings safely to all families this fall,” Dr. Jim Rigg, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools, said in a statement. “Such a reopening has required careful and diligent planning on the part of our school employees, along with consultation from medical professionals, state and local officials, educators, parents, and others. We believe that in-person instruction is the best way to benefit our students and are committed to providing that instruction in a safe manner.”
The reopening plan features the following restrictions and changes:
- All students over the age of 2 and school employees will be required to wear masks while indoors. Masks may only be removed during designated activities (such as lunch and recess) and only then if students remain physically distant.
- Students will be assigned to a “cohort”, which will correspond to their homeroom class and will remain with those same classmates throughout the day. Students within a cohort will remain physically as far apart as possible to prevent the spread of illness.
- Schools will provide new pick-up and drop-off procedures, walking routes within the buildings and other measures to limit the physical interaction of students.
- Parents will be asked to take their children’s temperatures daily. Temperature checks will also occur as students enter the school building every day.
- Schools will adhere to infection protocols, requiring any student who presents symptoms of COVID-19 and/or tests positive for the virus to quarantine and seek medical attention before returning to class.
- Finally, families who are not ready for their children to return to classrooms will still have the option for online learning.
“We have worked hard to provide a reopening plan that recognizes the great benefits of in-school instruction and still expresses our commitment to the preservation of human life,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said in a statement. “Even in the best of times, our schools help ensure children have good nutrition and a safe place to learn. It is even more important that families have access to these benefits during the pandemic.”
More information on the plan can be found at schools.archchicago.org.
The announcement comes as school districts across the country debate how to safely reopen, if they reopen at all.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday Chicago Public Schools expects to announce its own reopening plan "soon," but declined to give a specific timeline.
"As with everything, we're going to be guided by the public health guidance and we need to take our time and see where we are in the arc of this virus at that point. But having said that, of course, CPS with a lot of different stakeholders has been working on the reopening opening plan and what that will look like," she said. "I will let them give the specifics, but we plan to make an announcement relatively soon about what that might look like. But of course, we have contingency plans, if our public health metrics are not where we need them to be in late August."
The state of Illinois has already unveiled its guidelines for the return to school in the fall, which could allow students back in classrooms.
Those guidelines, which were released as part of Phase Four of the “Restore Illinois” program amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, specify that each district will be required to come up with their own rules for the return to class.
Under the guidelines, students will be limited to gatherings of fewer than 50 individuals, and all students age 5 or older will be required to wear facial coverings. Extra sanitation procedures will be put in place, and if the state sees a surge in new coronavirus cases, in-person learning may be suspended and replaced with virtual learning, as it was earlier this year.
President Donald Trump said he remains determined to reopen America’s schools, threatening on Wednesday to hold back federal money if school districts don't bring their students back in the fall. He complained that his own public health officials’ safety guidelines are impractical and too expensive.
A growing chorus of public health experts is urging federal, state and local officials to reconsider how they are reopening the broader economy, and to prioritize K-12 schools — an effort that will likely require closing some other establishments to help curb the virus spread and give children the best shot at returning to classrooms.
The CDC’s existing guidance recommends that students and teachers wear masks whenever feasible, spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.