With the first round of Chicago Public Schools students set to return to the classroom Monday, the district has set up COVID-19 isolation pods at some schools in the event of capacity issues at its "care rooms" for students experiencing symptoms, CPS leaders revealed.
The "care rooms," which have also been referred to as "sick rooms," have been put in place at 100% of the district's schools and will also be available to students who simply aren't feeling well or test positive for COVID-19 during the school day.
"This is the best practice that has been outlined throughout the country for safely reopening schools or operating businesses across the board," Dr. Janice Jackson, CPS chief executive officer explained Friday.
Jackson said in most cases, traditional classrooms have been reconfigured into "care rooms," but that's not the case for all schools, such as those already dealing with capacity issues.
On Wednesday, the CTU posted a picture on its Facebook page showing what appeared to be isolation cubes set up in the auditorium of a North Side elementary school.
Jackson said that the cubes have been put into place in the event that the "care rooms" reach capacity. But, she stated, the district doesn't necessarily intend to use the cubes.
"We did have a handful of schools whose capacity is such that they needed an additional layer of support, should they see people who are symptomatic that need to wait either to be picked up from a parent or wait for a test to come back," Jackson said.
The district's reopening plan has been met with resistance from the Chicago Teachers Union and elected officials over concerns that the district does not have a comprehensive coronavirus testing and contact tracing program, among other issues.
CTU said that educators who returned to schools reported "problems with cleanliness, safety protocols, ventilation and more."
This past Monday marked the first day some teachers and staff were asked to return to schools in preparation for a return to in-person instruction. But CPS revealed Tuesday that just over half of all teachers ordered to report to schools on Monday did not show up.
While pre-K and cluster program students were expected to return on Monday, staff members for kindergarten through eighth grades will be back in school buildings on Monday, Jan. 25, followed by their students the next Monday, Feb. 1, per the district's plan. No date has been set for high school students, who are expected to continue with remote learning under the district's reopening plan.
In late December, CPS supported an open letter in the Chicago Sun-Times from 17 physicians who stated returning to school was safe, adding that they "cannot understate the serious psychological harm that prolonged virtual school has had on many children."
Last week, more than 30 Chicago aldermen signed a letter to Lightfoot and Jackson in which they listed nine steps they want the district to take before resuming in-person instruction such as establishing a clear health criteria for reopening and improving remote learning technology.