Even as cases of the coronavirus soar and worries about the omicron variant prompt concerns among parents, Chicago Public Schools plans to bring its more than 300,000 students back to the classroom Monday, insisting its COVID-19 procedures will keep students and staff safe.
CPS has encouraged parents to get their students tested for COVID-19 over winter break, with the district distributing about 150,000 take-home test kits to schools in communities hit hard by the pandemic.
Testing is only required for unvaccinated students who traveled outside of Illinois during the period, unvaccinated students who are close contacts of a known COVID case and all students - regardless of vaccination status - who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.
In order to ensure test results are received by Monday, parents were asked to drop off testing kits to specified locations by Dec. 28.
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The district later extended the deadline until Thursday after families and the Chicago Teachers Union reported overflowing drop boxes that left some parents scrambling.
The CTU on Thursday submitted a proposal that requires staff, students, vendors, and volunteers provide results of a negative PCR test before returning to in-person learning, reestablishes a "health screener policy" and calls for the district to provide KF94, KN95 or N95 masks to all students and staff, among other items.
Because a consensus wasn't reached, CTU asked the district to implement a two-week pause under the terms of last year's safety metric agreement. According to the union, CPS hit the metric last week.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez asserts the district has taken the proper steps to ensure student safety during in-person learning, including throughouly cleaning school buildings during winter break, offering COVID tests and purchasing two million additional masks.
Both he and Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, warn CPS could see a rise in COVID cases among students in January.
Martinez said if a risk of high transmission is shown, CPS will transition to remote classes, but in the meantime has asked for patience among parents as the district navigates the return from winter break.
CPS has also urged its students and parents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and for those eligible to receive their boosters. Those shots remain the best protection against the virus, with boosters in particular offering protection against omicron, health officials widely say.
Martinez previously said shots would bring “stability in our classrooms. Short of that, we’re going to have to take more conservative approaches.”