With several Illinois school districts already releasing their reopening plans, Chicago Public Schools has yet to announce a plan of its own.
But that could change this week.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the district plans to release "framework" later this week.
"Chicago Public Schools reopens right after Labor Day and anybody sitting here in the middle of July, that thinks that they have a crystal ball and can tell you with any degree of certainty what the world is going to look like then I think is foolish," Lightfoot told MSNBC in an interview Tuesday. "But the reality is we've got to prepare. So our Chicago Public Schools is going to be releasing later this week, a framework that's going to be a starting point for conversation, particularly with parents and other people in the school community that are vital to any kind of reopening strategy."
Lightfoot didn't give specifics on what the framework would include but said "we've got to have maximum flexibility to make sure that parents have predictability, but they've got a flexible schedule that they can depend upon."
"And so we're going to start that kind of conversation with parents and teachers, staff and other stakeholders," she said.
Lightfoot echoed those comments at a later press conference in Chicago, saying the framework will likely be the start of a conversation and not the district's final plan.
"I think we would be remiss if we said definitively now, in July, when we've got at least six more weeks, a little longer before school starts, we're going to open or definitively now, we're not going to open," Lightfoot said. "Our metrics are pretty good and stable. Although we're concerned about the new cases that are growing in that 18- to 29-year-old cohort. That's a great concern and we're watching that, but this is going to be an interactive process. As we've learned over these last four months, this disease is unpredictable and it takes many twists and turns. We've got to anticipate and be prepared, but we're not going to know specifically until we get closer in time."
Speaking at an unrelated press conference Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said details on the district's reopening plan are set to be released, though she declined to give a specific timeline.
"As with everything, we're going to be guided by the public health guidance and we need to take our time and see where we are in the arc of this virus at that point. But having said that, of course, CPS with a lot of different stakeholders has been working on the reopening opening plan and what that will look like," she said. "I will let them give the specifics, but we plan to make an announcement relatively soon about what that might look like. But of course, we have contingency plans, if our public health metrics are not where we need them to be in late August."
The state of Illinois has already unveiled its guidelines for the return to school in the fall, which could allow students back in classrooms.
Chicago Public Schools has said it will work to develop its own rules and regulations to allow children to return to schools safely.
"There's no environment in which we can completely eliminate risk," Lightfoot said Tuesday. "You leave your house, you're stepping into risk."
The state's guidelines, which were released as part of Phase Four of the “Restore Illinois” program amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, specify that each district will be required to come up with their own rules for the return to class. Under the guidelines, students will be limited to gatherings of fewer than 50 individuals, and all students age 5 or older will be required to wear facial coverings.
Extra sanitation procedures will be put in place, and if the state sees a surge in new coronavirus cases, in-person learning may be suspended and replaced with virtual learning, as it was earlier this year.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey criticized the guidelines put out by the state, calling them too "vague."
“From rural communities to huge cities like Chicago, the guidance is just too vague in general,” Sharkey said.
One of the concerns brought up by Sharkey is the mask requirement.
“Enforcing mask wearing for younger students (will be tough),” he said. “I don’t know the last time you tried to put a mask on a 6-year-old, but it’s not easy.”
Despite the outbreak, President Donald Trump remains determined to reopen America’s schools, threatening earlier this month to hold back federal money if school districts don't bring their students back in the fall. He complained that his own public health officials’ safety guidelines are impractical and too expensive.
But getting children back to school safely could mean keeping high-risk spots like bars and gyms closed.
A growing chorus of public health experts is urging federal, state and local officials to reconsider how they are reopening the broader economy, and to prioritize K-12 schools — an effort that will likely require closing some other establishments to help curb the virus spread and give children the best shot at returning to classrooms.
The CDC’s existing guidance recommends that students and teachers wear masks whenever feasible, spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.