CPS confirmed Friday morning that the district plans to begin the second quarter remotely, with a goal of bringing back students in pre-K and those with special needs later in the quarter.
However, the Chicago Teachers Union is pushing back against that, calling it a "dangerous strategy."
The union said on Twitter it believes sending young, vulnerable children back is very risky.
The science of COVID as it relates to children continues to evolve. But sending our youngest and most vulnerable children back into buildings at this point is a very risky proposition. Schools, by nature, are designed for social interaction. That cannot happen right now.— ChicagoTeachersUnion (@CTULocal1) October 15, 2020
In a virtual press conference Friday morning, one CPS special education teacher said during the COVID-19 pandemic, these vulnerable students are some of the most at risk.
"Since school started in September, I've had both students and a coworker I work with directly who have had to self-quarantine because of COVID in their families, but what would have happened if we had been in school is that we all would have been exposed," Kirstin Roberts said.
The CTU said Mayor Lori Lightfoot's plan to bring these students back is a result of their not being served well by remote learning.
"Right now we are discussing a plan that they have already said is impossible to implement based on the criteria that they created and introduced last summer," said Stacy Davis Gates with CTU. "Why is it the responsibility of the Chicago Teachers Union, our members, the families we serve, to remind them of their responsibilities."
CPS said a final decision will be made in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Public Health closer to the start of the second quarter. The district said in-person learning is needed to address an enrollment and attendance crisis among early learners and low attendance among those with special needs.
"Data from the first six weeks of schools show that our youngest learners, as well as our special education cluster programs, are not being served well enough online," said CPS CEO Janice Jackson.
The current learning setup hasn't been working for 13-year-old Antwuan Staton, who has cerebral palsy. While his parents say their son's teachers have done a good job with remote learning, he needs to learn in a classroom.
"It's too much screen time, they need hands-on," said Staton's mom Tameeka Chalmers
"He really needs one on one attention with his teachers," added Antwuan Staton Sr.
However, CPS' latest back-to-school plan is getting push back from the Chicago Teachers Union, who has consistently opposed in-class teaching due to coronavirus safety concerns.
"This isn't a plan, it's an idea and it's a dangerous idea if it is implemented as is now," said Stacy Davis Gates, Vice President for the CTU.
With diverse learners and younger students first, CPS hopes to bring back the rest of the students early next year.
The plan also comes with the blessing of Chicago's Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
Arwady said COVID-19 data in young people shows that Chicago students who have returned to their classrooms in parochial and private schools actually have lower rates of the virus detected than their counterparts in the community.
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"I'm a pediatrician. If I thought the plan was dangerous, I would not support it," she said. "I'm very concerned about the classroom time children are missing and the negative impact that can have on their development, particularly those already facing challenges."
After analyzing data from park district programs, summer camps, and private and parochial schools, Dr. Arwady said COVID-19 rates are much higher outside of school settings
"The data shows us when the proper precautions are taken, transmission in these settings are rare," Dr. Arwady said.
District officials said they are confident the plan is safe with the implementation of masks, temperature checks and the $65 million in facility improvements for proper ventilation.
Jackson added that if students don't get back to school soon, enrollment will continue to drop.
"This is the largest drop in enrollment CPS has experienced in two decades," she pointed out.
The district is planning for a phased reopening approach, adding other grades as early as January. Later this year, the district will be engaging parents in other grades to assess their interest in returning to classrooms.
Students enrolled in pre-K are aged 3 and 4, and special education students enrolled in intensive and moderate cluster programs require a significantly modified curriculum with support in a separate classroom from general education peers for the majority of the day, school officials said.
On Wednesday, the district will send all parents and guardians of pre-K and cluster program students an intent form to indicate whether they would feel comfortable sending their students to school. Parents will be asked to complete the form by Oct. 28, and parents will have the option to opt-out at any time.
Due to the small class sizes for all pre-K and most cluster classrooms, all pre-K students would be able to attend school daily, and most students enrolled in cluster programs would be able to attend school daily, with some cluster classrooms implementing hybrid learning depending on the number of students who opt-in, officials said.
Previously established health guidelines would also remain in place, and the district said it's working to ensure ventilation meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.
The district has spent the last several months ordering supplies, implementing health processes and preparing schools for potential in-person hybrid learning, it said.
They have already hired 100 of the 400 janitors it plans to add. Nurses are also being recruited, with the goal of having a nurse in each school.
They have also hired 10 contact tracers to work with CPS and local health officials.
At this point, though cases are increasing, the city remains well below the peak period from May for new daily COVID-19 cases, city officials said. Severe cases, in particular, are much less common, with both hospitalizations and deaths down about 90% from the peak in May. The city's test positivity rate is currently below 5%.
Visit cps.edu/school-reopening-2020 for more information.