Chicago Public Schools students head back to school as CPS faces teacher, bus driver shortage

BySarah Schulte, Will Jones, and Stephanie Wade via WLS logo
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
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Chicago Public Schools students head back for the first day of school Monday amid a CPS teacher and bus driver shortage and new COVID protocols.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools students head back for the first day of the school year Monday.

The fall semester is starting earlier than usual, before Labor Day weekend, and students will see other changes this year.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez at Falconer Elementary School on the Northwest Side to ring the bell and welcome students back to school.

"We are very happy to have all the kids back this morning," parent Jessica Muentes said.

And the students seemed just as happy to be back at school.

As the nation's third-largest district, that means more than 330,000 students returned to school Monday.

WATCH: Mayor Lightfoot joins CPS CEO for 1st day of school

The earlier-than-usual start to the school year is also marked by relaxed COVID protocols and a teacher and bus driver shortage.

"It was a short summer for sure," parent Shirley Kienitz said. "Well we agreed because they got another booster that they could make their own choice about wearing a mask. We're still doing the weekly testing. We'll see how it goes. A little apprehensive, but body autonomy."

At the Chicago Teacher's Union headquarters, President Stacy Davis Gates praised the tentative safety plan agreed to with CPS that would allow teachers to avoid the contentious pandemic-related battles of the last two years.

"As long as our kids are fine and healthy and everyone takes care and does the protocol, everything is good," Muentes said.

As students enter a third pandemic school year, the CPS CEO said masks will still be encouraged and weekly screening tests will still be conducted at schools.

"What I'm really excited about is that with the new CDC guidance, the only children that will have to isolate, that won't be able to learn from classrooms, will be children that are positive or have symptoms," Martinez said. "All of our other children will be able to learn safely from their classrooms."

"I am going to trust our members to be stewards of the common good and care for the families that they serve and I'm going to trust that we can finally find partnership with our school district to anchor all of our resources into giving our students the best that they can get," Davis Gates said.

Belmont Cragin school emphasizes addressing needs of students outside the classroom

Chicago International Charter School West Belden is putting more emphasis on addressing the needs of their students outside the classroom this year.

"Over the last few years we have learned a lot about what it means for us to be more than just a school," said Principal Colleen Collins.

Diego Nunez is serving as the school's first community school coordinator. He just recently graduated with a master's degree in community psychology from DePaul University.

"Here at West Belden we are a predominantly Latino community so just being a part of that culture myself I think is really important, I want to give back," he said.

Nunez plans to spend time connecting with families to see what students are facing at home.

"This is the perfect time to really offer those wrap around services, like healthcare, work with rental assistance, work with immigration rights," Nunez said.

"The intention is that if we are really mindful of providing our students and their families and the community with greater access to supports that they need, when they come to school every day they will be ready to learn," said Collins.

"It just creates a safer community, healthier and happier community," said parent Tanya Diaz.

Schools still struggling with bus driver shortage as year begins

This year, a bus driver shortage has led to longer routes.

CPS continues to offer parents a monthly stipend in exchange for arranging their own transportation.

CEO Martinez asked parents for a couple of weeks grace once school starts to get everything sorted out.

The CTA is offering free rides for Chicago Public School students Monday.

The offer is good for all students and their parents or guardians.

"We've got some carpool for aftercare -- a lot of logistics, laundry and logistics. That's the truth of motherhood," Kienitz said.

Metra and Pace are also offering free services to students between 5:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.