Kindergarten through 5th graders returned to in-person learning Monday morning, and now CPS has its sights on getting high schoolers back, too.
There were lots of excited kids and parents as they turned a new page in this pandemic-marred school year. The mayor was on hand to welcome students back - and for kindergarteners, it was the first time they've ever been in the classroom.
"I'm excited about my first day of school and I like it," said Kate Lowry, a kindergartener at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in Lakeview.
Many parents were equally excited.
"It feels like things are kinda going back to the ways that they're supposed to be," mother Kelly Lowry said. "It feels good to know we've got good plans that the kids and be back in school. 43 they can be with other teachers, they can be with other kids. (08) 30
Classrooms were ready with hand sanitizer and wipes and students were socially distant, wearing masks. About 25% of CPS students opted to return to in-person learning. At Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in Lakeview, it's over 50%.
"Welcoming this group of students back to in-person school is our first step back to normalcy," Principal Trish Davalantes said. "And it is our hope that we will all be together again, very, very soon."
The return to in-person learning is the result of a very contentious round of negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union over safety protocols. CPS invested $100 million to make schools safe.
"This is exactly what we fought for," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. "This is the moment that we knew was possible, and important."
The Chicago Teachers Union stressed that there will be plenty of challenges as teachers juggle students in the classroom with those still learning remotely.
"So it's not going to be easy but you know, I think that you know if people have some degree of patience, hopefully we can figure out way to make it work," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.
This week, CPS will begin discussions with the teachers union about how to bring back high school students. Both sides are expressing optimism that it will happen this school year.
Even with the excitement at school, there is a group of parents that decided to call their children out sick on Monday in protest. They said they do not trust CPS or think it is safe enough to return to classrooms.
Joseph Williams said his children will not be returning to in person learning this week.
"We still don't feel that is it safe enough just yet to send our children back to school," he said.
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The father of five CPS students, ranging from kindergarten to high school, has opted to keep them all at home, wishing the return to school plan was staggered out grade by grade.
"I really felt that phases should have went maybe by grade levels," he said. "Grade level by grade level, where you have opportunity to vaccinate teachers per grade level and take it as a slow process to working in."
More importantly, Williams said he had hoped and still hopes parents will get their chance to be part of decision-making with the district going forward.
"They have to be a part of the decision-making that's happening within CPS. You know it's sad because I do feel like that family that's left out of what's happening right now," Williams said. "We feel like we're not a part of the process."