Chicago Public Schools released new details for its reopening plan in the new year as the coronavirus pandemic continues, aiming to bring in students as soon as Jan. 11.
For staff members who applied for non-medical accommodations as students begin to return, CPS said the district is providing additional supports such as COVID-19 testing and launching a process to ensure employees who serve as primary caregivers for high-risk household members are granted accommodations.
"While the district cannot guarantee every one of these caregiver requests will be granted a remote work accommodation, we expect that we will grant the vast majority of their requests," CPS said.
For any staff who indicated that childcare is a barrier for them returning to in-person work, the district said they can request for their child to attend the student's regular school four days per week instead of two. CPS reminded that students in grades K through 8 will attend school two days per week in the hybrid model.
"Health and safety are the district’s highest priorities and accommodations for remote work have been granted to all teachers and staff who have documented medical conditions as defined by the CDC, and where possible, accommodations were also granted to staff who live with someone with a high-risk medical condition, or who face child care challenges," CPS said in a statement.
CPS released the following schedule for reopening:
- Jan. 4: Staff return for pre-K and cluster programs
- Jan. 11: In-person learning resumes for students enrolled in pre-k and moderate and intensive cluster programs
- Jan. 25: Staff returns for grades K through 8
- Feb. 1: In-person learning resumes with a hybrid model for students in grades K through 8
Though the district is preparing to resume in-person learning, CPS said the "vast majority" of pre-K and cluster program teachers and staff either did not request an accommodation or were granted the ability to work remotely.
In October, CPS said it sent all parents and guardians of pre-K and cluster program students an intent form to indicate if they will feel comfortable sending their children to school, asking them to return it by Oct. 28. The district noted that parents have the option to opt out at any time and that each school will hold a meeting to answer any questions before a potential reopening.
According to a release, 83% of staff who support pre-K and cluster program classrooms are returning in-person. The same data showed 67% of staff, or two-thirds, did not apply for any leave of absence or accommodation.
“We have a moral imperative to do everything in our power to safely open our schools for our youngest and most vulnerable learners who cannot be served well enough by any form of remote learning,” CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said in a statement. “The availability of safe, in-person instruction is an issue of equity and if public health officials continue to support in-person instruction and parents choose to participate, we will be eager to open our doors as soon as possible.”
The district has said it has committed to several measures to keep anyone inside school buildings safe. Those efforts include:
- Face Coverings: Cloth face coverings will be provided to all staff and students and required at all times.
- Pods: Students and educators will be grouped into stable pods or small class sizes to minimize exposure to other students, allow for social distancing in classrooms, and support contact tracing
- Daily Screenings: Temperature checks, hand washing, and daily symptom screenings are required before students enter the classroom.
- Testing: To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the district will ensure that any student or staff member who is symptomatic or a close contact of someone who tested positive has access to a free COVID-19 test.
- Contact Tracing: To help reduce the transmission of COVID-19, CPS has hired dedicated staff to support the intake of cases and provide proper notification. CPS will work in coordination with CDPH to ensure that those identified as close contacts have rapid contact tracing and are connected to city resources such as monitoring and testing.
- Additional Custodians: To ensure comprehensive cleaning protocols are completed every day, the district is hiring 400 additional custodians.
- Sanitizer and Soap: The district invested over $3.5 million to secure over 50,000 hand sanitizer dispensers in all high-traffic areas and soap dispensers to support regular hand washing and sanitizing.
- Disinfectant Wipes: The district allocated over $2 million to purchase 86,000 containers of EPA approved disinfectant wipes for classrooms, offices and other high-touch areas.
- Hospital-Grade Disinfectant Sprayers: Every CPS school has a hospital-grade mister spray unit that will evenly apply EPA-approved disinfectant for maximum disinfection.
- Community Notifications: CPS adopted consistent procedures and community notification protocols developed by CDPH to respond to any confirmed cases of COVID-19. To ensure public awareness, the district is tracking confirmed COVID cases at cps.edu/school-reopening-2020.
- Sneeze Guards and Signage: All schools installed sneeze guards and other physical barriers to protect staff when visitors arrive, and posted signage throughout school facilities to emphasize new policies and procedures.
CPS began its new school year with remote instruction Sept. 8 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In early August, Lightfoot said the decision to start the school year remotely was "rooted in public health," but at the time said the district sought to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter.
The mayor said she knows "there's a lot of anxiety on the part of the parent," but that it was important for the city to consider the health of principals, teachers and staff members.
"What does it mean for members of that school community? Who are over 60? Who have underlying medical conditions? Are we going to have enough of a robust workforce to be able to come back in person?," the mayor said.