CPS high school students return to in-person learning Monday after CTU agrees to deal

Monday, April 19, 2021
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Chicago Public Schools high school students returned to class Monday after weeks of negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools high school students returned to class Monday after weeks of negotiations between teachers and the district.

It's the first time high schoolers are back inside the classroom since March of last year.

The sprawling campus of Lane Tech High School looked busier Monday with many teachers and students resuming in-person learning.

"It's definitely a relief to know that they're all OK and that this pandemic didn't change them as much," said Lane Tech student Andrea Esperon.

"It's kind of freaky because you walk out and you think you're late for next class because you only see five people in the hallway, added fellow student Rachel Eiden.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson welcomed students back at Walter Payton Preparatory High School.

WATCH | Mayor Lightfoot, CPS CEO welcome back high school students to classrooms

"This is an important day for us because this is the first day that high school students have been back in their schools in 13 months or so," Lightfoot said.

The Chicago Teachers Union and district reached a deal late last week to get kids and teachers back inside safely.

At Taft High School, up to half of the almost 4,000 students are expected to come back.

Roughly one-third of high school students district-wide said they were interested in coming back. Many said they wanted to be back because, for them, it's a better learning environment.

"It feels nice because, for me, I kind of struggled to pay attention at home because there's a lot of distractions. Here, it's a lot easier to learn," Lane Tech student Deny Chelak added

CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said she is happy to see a return to the classroom because many students have been struggling with their academics and mental health.

"We do see more students expressing concern," she said.

As part of the CPS/CTU deal, city officials agreed to create a vaccination program for students ages 16 and over, and their families. CPS has also installed HEPA air purifiers in classrooms and enhanced safety protocols guided by the Chicago department of health.

"I want to return to normal, whatever that normal is, but we're going to celebrate what happened today. We got our kids back in school, our kids are happy to be back in school, and it is one step along a long process that will with all of our kids having access to in-person instruction five days a week. That is the goal," said Dr. Jackson.

Taft student Jacob Bibik walked into school for the first time for in-person learning this year.

"Just seeing my teachers, finally meeting some of my teachers it's going to be a little weird but I'm excited for it," Bibik said.

Sara Bibik is so happy to have her son vaccinated, and now coming back into the classroom.

"He's a social kid, the interaction, seeing the teachers in the eyes is going to make a big difference to him," she said. "When school was stopped last year... if you would have told me he was going back April 19, I would have said that totally makes sense, but I never would have imagine it would have been a year and a month later."

Another part of the deal has some students attending in-person learning four days a week, and others will attend two days a week.

CTU members voted 83% in favor of ratification of the new agreement.

Students only have about two months left in this school year.