Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday announced the district plans to return to in-person learning beginning in January.
Officials said students will learn remotely through the end of 2020 but pre-k and students in intensive and "moderate cluster classrooms" will begin in-person instruction starting on Jan. 11. Students in grades K-8 will resume in-person learning on Feb. 1.
High school students will continue to participate in remote learning and the district will evaluate in-person learning options for those students in 2021, officials said.
The district cited "low incidence of school-based transmission at schools across the country, including private and parochial schools in Chicago."
“While remote learning has allowed many of our students to continue their studies over the past eight months, the reality is that our Black and Latinx students, our youngest students and highest-need learners have not been equitably served,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “The decision to begin in-person learning this January will restore their access to high-quality instruction and is the result of balancing our commitment to equity with our current public health situation. The health of our students, their families and our school communities remain our top priority, and we will continue to work closely with CPS and CDPH to ensure their safety as they transition back to the classroom.”
The district noted that while all of Illinois will soon be under Tier 3 mitigations imposed by the state due to a rising number of cases and hospitalizations, the new restrictions do not force schools in the state to close and leave the decision up to each individual district.
“It’s our moral imperative to do everything in our power to safely open schools beginning with our youngest and highest-needs learners, and the decision to re-open in January will ensure that Black and Latinx families — many of whom are essential workers and cannot ensure their children are fully supported through remote learning — have more equitable access to instruction this year,” CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said in a statement. “While we are eager to open our doors as soon as possible, beginning in-person learning in January is the right decision because it will minimize learning disruption from planned breaks and allow time for students and staff to limit activity prior to resuming in-person learning.”
While classrooms will resume in January, CPS did suspend all high school sports beginning Friday.
"A limited group of sports — bowling, cheer, dance and boy’s swimming and diving —were previously permitted to move forward this winter, and these sports will remain suspended until the state determines they can move forward," the district said.
The plan follows one released by the district earlier in the fall, following a phased reopening model.
The district plans to reach out to parents and staff of students in other grades later this year to gauge their interest in their students returning to the classroom.
The district noted that parents will have the option to opt out at any time, but those who choose remote learning will not be able to opt-in to in-person instruction until a later date.
The district 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.