Monday, the first day of classes for Chicago Public Schools students, was especially nerve-racking for Christine Hernandez, whose 13-year-old son, Christopher, is on the Autism spectrum and goes to a sensory school on the city's North Side.
Hernandez said she hoped her son could attend school virtually because of her ongoing health issues and rising COVID-19 cases spurred by the delta variant.
"It is scary having my son go in person knowing he could bring something home that could be deadly to me," the mother said, noting she is in kidney failure and awaiting a transplant.
Hernandez said she applied for CPS' remote learning option, the Virtual Academy, but was denied.
"Probably going to send him to school and just pray," she said.
Another parent, Constance Mendez-Garcia, says she too applied for the remote learning option because her 8-year-old is not old enough to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Mendez-Garcia's daughter was also denied, so she decided homeschooling was the best option.
"It is not ideal," she said. "I would love her to be with new friends and teachers."
According to the CPS website, the Virtual Academy serves "a limited number of students who qualify as medically fragile with documented health conditions or medical needs," but the children must meet specific criteria.
"He is not on that list, but I am," Hernandez said. "So, [it] should be an option for families like mine."
CPS said 758 people applied for the Virtual Academy, but 481 students were admitted.
The district contends opening schools can be done safely, which is why there's no standing virtual learning option.
"When her age does come up we will have her vaccinated and safe to be in school," Mendez-Garcia said. "Not until then."