CPS deadline for families to choose in-school, remote learning preference Monday

The district is planning to bring kids back into buildings next month, starting with pre-K and cluster classes

BySarah Schulte and Alexis McAdams WLS logo
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
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Chicago Public Schools will return to in-person instruction beginning in January after winter break with precautions to contain the spread of COVID-19.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools plans to start bringing kids back next month and the district reassures it is taking extra safety precautions. But the Chicago Teachers Union said it's not enough and that it's too soon to bring kids back.

Adam Aluka's non-profit organization Youth for a Better Future has shifted its focus from after school programs to providing virtual learning support for CPS students. His own two kids attend too.

"Do I want the kids to back to school, yes, of course," he said.

But Aluka does not think January is the safest time to return.

Monday was the deadline for CPS parents to let the district know if their kids will return for a hybrid schedule in January or stay remote.

"I've opted personally to stay remote for now until we figure things out," Aluka said.

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"I have not filled it out yet," said Cassandra Tyree, grandmother of a CPS student. "I've been thinking about it because one of my grandkids has terrible asthma."

While some parents and grandparents are hesitant, so is the Chicago Teachers Union.

CTU renewed its legal challenge Monday against CPS to delay reopening next month by filing for an injunction.

Representatives for the teachers said plans in place won't keep teachers or students safe.

"We don't think it's safe right now, mainly because the level of spread in the community is so high," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.

Sharkey said he is reassured with the district's work on ventilation in school buildings and its plan to provide testing, but added that the COVID-19 positivity rate is too high in certain neighborhoods.

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"The thing that is missing from CPS's plan, they've done a lot of things, is a clear public health standard, a positivity level," he said.

Despite legal action, Sharkey does believe there is a path forward. He believes the safest time for teachers to return is the Spring, he said.

However, CPS said too many children of color are falling behind with remote learning and public health data suggests when protocols are followed, the rate of transmission is low in schools.

"We don't see outbreaks associated with schools," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwardy said. "I don't see them being significant sources of spread and in that context, we are really excited about being able to start bringing some students back."

"Our entire school community deserves the best safety protocols. They said they would hire 400 custodians and they only have 100," said Stacy Davis, VP Chicago's Teachers Union. "The air filtration systems are not in place yet either. How can you open up the schools without the safety protocols?"

The CPS Learning Preference sheets are due on Monday. Parents were asked to indicate if they would prefer to keep their students at home or send them back to in-person learning.

The form is similar to one that the district sent in October.

CPS said pre-K and students enrolled in intensive and moderate cluster classrooms will return to in-person learning on Jan. 11; K-8 grade on Feb. 1.

At that time, CPS data showed more than half of families who responded preferred remote learning.

"I would like our son to do remote learning because our health is essential to me. He's been doing great from home," said Nichole Dorsey, whose child attends Amelia Earhart Elementary School.

The district plans to begin bringing students back into the building in January beginning with Pre-K and cluster classes.

The plan is to gradually bring back kindergarten through 8th-grade students in February.

Dr. Janice Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools said the district feels it's safe to being in-person-learning as COVID-19 infection rates are at a record high.

CPS high school students will continue to learn remotely for the time being.

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.

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.

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.

The teachers union has said they are against returning to in-person learning, because of the risk of COVID-19.

"I'm all about having the choice so if others feel going back is what's best for them - I respect it," Dorsey said.

CPS said, unless a teacher has a medical exemption, they must report in January. If not, they could face disciplinary action.