Chicago Public Schools on Friday announced its plan for the second quarter of the school year as the coronavirus pandemic continues, with all students beginning with remote learning as the district says it aims to bring back some in a phased reopening.
CPS said in a statement that it plans to begin its phased reopening with the "most vulnerable students in pre-k and intensive and moderate cluster programs who encounter significant challenges participating in remote learning without the support of a guardian, which further exacerbates inequities."
The students returning to classrooms would be brought back as early as January, with time needed to prepare the "significant new operational processes needed to open schools," CPS said. The district plans to reach out to parents of students in other grades later this year to gauge their interest in their students returning to the classroom.
“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.”
CPS said it will send all parents and guardians of pre-K and cluster program students an intent form on Oct. 21 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 will 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.
CPS said a final decision on in-person learning would be made in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Public Health closer to the beginning of the second quarter, which falls on Nov. 9.
"Though remote learning has allowed a great number of our students to safely continue learning in light of COVID-19, the fact of the matter is that it has also exacerbated social and economic inequities—preventing our youngest students, cluster program students and students of color from getting the high-quality education they deserve," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "We are working on a thoughtful and strategic plan that lays a strong foundation for a return to in-person learning. With the collaboration of CPS and CDPH, we will ensure that this next phase is engaging, equitable and above all, safe—especially for our most vulnerable students."
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.
The Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement Thursday, in anticipation of a the plan's release, that an effort to bring students and teachers back to schools "defies the science and puts thousands of students, family members and educators at risk from the deadly pandemic."
"The mayor's move to in-person learning also defies the standards that CPS itself set this summer, when the district said that the city should be showing fewer than 400 new cases daily based on a seven-day rolling average, or fewer than 200 new cases daily if those numbers come with concerning epidemiological factors like rapid increase of cases and inadequate hospital capacity," the union said in a statement.
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 at a news conference Monday.
Over the summer Lightfoot first proposed a hybrid learning model, with students in small pods in the classroom a few days a week.The Chicago Teachers Union put on pressure to continue remote learning, citing concerns for teacher and student safety amid the pandemic.