For the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, some Chicago Public Schools educators will return to the classroom Monday to prepare for in-person instruction despite opposition from dozens of elected officials and the Chicago Teachers Union.
In accordance with the district's reopening plan, pre-kindergarten and cluster program staff members will return Monday, and their students will head back to the classroom the following week, starting Jan. 8.
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.
Of the roughly 5,000 teachers ordered to report to school buildings on Monday, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said, about 1,800 asked for special accommodations, and only about 600 received them.
"I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow," he told NBC 5 Sunday. "Certainly what I’m hearing is that a number of teachers are going to not be showing up at work tomorrow, at least not in person."
In-person instruction will be an option for students' families, with remote learning also being available, according to the 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."
Despite the reassurance from health officials, some teachers remain worried - not only for themselves.
"I'm scared for my health," said teacher Lori Torres. "I'm scared for the safety of students and their families."
However, in a statement, CPS said overwhelming scientific evidence, expert guidance and experiences of districts across Illinois show schools can safely reopen with a plan in place.
"The CTU has not identified any area where the district’s plan falls short of public health guidelines and CTU’s last minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning," the statement continued.
Parents, like Stephen Miller, whose two children attend Bronzeville Classical Elementary School, have yet to decide if their children will be going back to the classroom.
"Right now, up in the air," he said. "Leaning toward not returning."
In adherence to the current reopening plan, high school-aged students will continue remote learning for the foreseeable future.
On Sunday, more than 30 Chicago aldermen signed a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson, listing nine steps they want the district to take before students return to class. The suggestions included establishing a clear health criteria for reopening and improving technology for those who continue with remote learning.
The school district released an eight page response Sunday in which it addressed the concerns brought up by the aldermen.