Chicago Public Schools reopening in-person learning starting in January, school district announces

Students from pre-K through 8th grade can return to classroom; high school remains remote
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools announced Tuesday that it will return to in-person instruction beginning in January after winter break.

CPS said pre-K and students enrolled in intensive and moderate cluster classrooms will return to in-person learning on Jan. 11, while K-8 grade students will return on Feb. 1. High school instruction will remain remote.

The district said they chose the date because it provides minimal disruptions for the transition back into the classroom, and because it will allow students to quarantine following the holidays.

"While remote learning has allowed many of our students to continue their studies over the past eight months, the reality is that our Black and Latinx students, our youngest students and highest-need learners have not been equitably served," said Mayor Lightfoot. "The decision to begin in-person learning this January will restore their access to high-quality instruction and is the result of balancing our commitment to equity with our current public health situation. The health of our students, their families and our school communities remain our top priority, and we will continue to work closely with CPS and CDPH to ensure their safety as they transition back to the classroom."

The school district assured families they have a robust safety plan for students next year, but parent groups and teachers said it needs more details, and a solution that involves their concerns.

The announcement came hours after Governor JB Pritzker announced that Tier 3 mitigation restrictions will in place starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday for the entire state. But that does not affect the Chicago school district's decision, because Tier 3 mitigation allows for in-person instruction.

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"When you compare the two things, it doesn't add up," said Jeannie Biggs, with Chicago parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. "There's just so much to consider here, and o much of it just feels very one-sided to parents."

CPS said the plan ensures families, particularly Black and Latinx families, have equal access to high-quality learning. The Chicago's Teacher's Union disagrees.

"This was the worst possible announcement at the worst possible time," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. "To couch it in the language of equity is absolutely cynical.

CTU said CPS's plan is not comprehensive enough, made without input from parents, students and teachers, and is not linked to any health criteria, including community infection rates.

"Today's announcement appears to be based on the mayor's political agenda, because it sure isn't based on science," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. "Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster."

Davis Gates also rejected the school district's equity statement.

"You don't begin to practice equity in the middle of a pandemic that's killing Black and brown people," she said. "You begin to practice equity when you fund their schools, when you make bilingual education a priority."

Of concern for all groups is the safety of young children.

"We have 72,000 kids that have been diagnosed since the beginning of this pandemic," said Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer at Advocate Children's Hospital. "But the great majority of kids that get it have mild symptoms."

CPS will suspend all high school sports beginning Friday, Nov. 20, per the governor's announcement, the district said. The district had previously permitted a limited group of sports including bowling, cheer, dance and boy's swimming and diving to move forward this winter, but they will remain suspended until state guidelines are changed.

CPS said that international data shows that schools can operate in-person learning safely even while COVID-19 community spread is elevated, but they are hoping the curve will have flattened by the time they plan to bring students back into the classroom.

CPS will also provide comprehensive testing in coordination with the Chicago Department of Public Health. Free tests will be provided for students and staff who are symptomatic or who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. School-based staff members will also be tested regularly through a surveillance testing plan, in order to help identify any undetected spread of the virus.

Parents can still choose to keep their children in remote learning if they want, CPS said. Opt-in decisions are due the week of Dec. 7.
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