Chicago Public Schools will begin the school year in the fall with fully remote learning as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the district announced Wednesday.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday morning, hours after reports surfaced the night before that the district would be moving away from its previously announced framework that called for a hybrid model.
“The decision to begin the 2020-2021 CPS school year remotely during the first quarter is rooted in public health data and the invaluable feedback we've received from parents and families,” Lightfoot said in a statement announcing the decision.
“As we build out this remote learning model and seek to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, we will continue to support and collaborate with parents and school leaders to create safe, sustainable learning environments for our students," Lightfoot continued.
Under the newly announced plan, every K-12 student and teacher will be expected to be engaged for the entirety of the school day, which will have live instruction every day, the district said.
Schools will use Google education tools to allow the district to track work - with teachers and students expected to log on daily for a check-in and for live video instruction.
CPS will be transitioning back to its previous grading system giving students letter grades for their work, the district said. When schools moved to fully remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic in March, the district employed a policy that would prevent students from being penalized under the new format, given the extenuating circumstance.
But the grading system will return in the fall to align with state guidance and to help foster an environment that will "more closely align with a typical school year," CPS said.
That shift means schools will return to taking attendance to engage with students, the district said - adding that schools will "enact intervention systems to support students who do not participate in remote learning to help address underlying concerns and ensure students are being supported."
CPS said the district would release its plan in full, with specific details on instruction and requirements, in the coming days.
CPS officials and the Chicago Teachers Union clashed over the district's previously announced framework that proposed a hybrid approach in which most students would have received two days of in-person instruction per week, in smaller pods of about 15 students to reduce exposure and support more efficient contact tracing should a member of the pod contract COVID-19.
Under that plan, both half and full day pre-K programs would have learned at school, while students in kindergarten through 10th grade would have operate under a hybrid model. High school juniors and seniors would have been fully remote.
CPS repeatedly said that framework was a draft, not a final plan, soliciting input through an online survey and multiple virtual community meetings before making any final decision.
The decision to move to fully remote learning was made after Chicago has seen increases in recent weeks in both positivity rates in coronavirus testing and daily number of new cases, city officials said Wednesday.
Both calculated on a 7-day rolling average, officials said the city's percent positivity is approaching 5% and the daily case rate was at an average of 273 on Tuesday, following several individual days with more than 300 cases reported.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has repeatedly said that the city - looking to see that case rate under 200 - would consider bringing back some restrictions, including potentially shutting down areas with a high risk of transmission or limiting group sizes, should that rate reach 400.
On Tuesday afternoon, sources said the Chicago Teachers Union - which vehemently opposed the hybrid approach over safety concerns - was moving toward a potential strike vote, with a House of Delegates meeting scheduled for next week.
"A win for teachers, students and parents," CTU President Jesse Sharkey tweeted of the news that CPS would begin fully remote. "It's sad that we have to strike or threaten to strike to be heard, but when we fight, we win!"
CPS' first day of school is scheduled for Sept. 8. CPS said instruction will remain entirely remote through the first quarter, and at that time, district officials will determine if it's safe to employ a hybrid model in the second quarter, which begins on Nov. 9.
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