As questions over returning to school in the fall continue to grow, an announcement is expected "soon" for Chicago Public Schools, according to the city's mayor.
Speaking at an unrelated press conference Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said details on the district's reopening plan are set to be released, though she 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.
Chicago Public Schools has said it will work to develop its own rules and regulations to allow children to return to schools safely. Officials planned to gather feedback from parents, teachers and other staff.
“Chicago Public Schools is eager to open its doors to students as soon as its safe to do so, and the district is gathering feedback from families to inform draft reopening guidelines for our schools,” CPS said in a statement last month. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students, staff and families, and we remain committed to widespread engagement to ensure our plan for reopening supports the diverse needs of our entire school community.”
The state's 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.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey criticized the guidelines put out by the state, calling them too "vague."
“From rural communities to huge cities like Chicago, the guidance is just too vague in general,” Sharkey said.
One of the concerns brought up by Sharkey is the mask requirement.
“Enforcing mask wearing for younger students (will be tough),” he said. “I don’t know the last time you tried to put a mask on a 6-year-old, but it’s not easy.”
Despite the outbreak, President Donald Trump 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.
But getting children back to school safely could mean keeping high-risk spots like bars and gyms closed.
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.