Chicago Public Schools announced Friday that all students will continue with remote learning when the second quarter starts in November but that some of the district’s “most vulnerable” children will begin returning to schools before the end of the calendar year.
A CPS news release did not specify when the first students — those in pre-kindergarten and some in special education — will begin phasing back in to in-person learning, saying administrators will make that decision in consultation with public health official “closer to the start of the second quarter” on Nov. 9.
But officials said the goal is to “add additional 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.”
The Chicago Teachers Union immediately vowed to fight the plan, with CTU attorney Thad Goodchild calling it “Ill-timed, reckless and illegal” and vowing that the union will use “all available resources” to roll it back.
The union, which went on strike a year ago, did not specify its next move. But leaders and members said Mayor Lori Lightfoot is shirking her responsibility to protect Chicago citizens and pointed to metrics showing the pandemic is worsening and aren’t within the parameters officials outlined over the summer. They say CPS hasn’t done enough to make buildings safe or been transparent about COVID-19 cases tied to schools.
“We need more engagement, we need more collaboration, we need more transparency and we need more clarity in respect to how we can open safely,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said.
“We also know mayor and CPS has yet to invest the dollars necessary to open safety,” she added, citing a “conservative estimate” of $1 billion.
“We cannot experiment or take lightly the responsibility we need to see from mayor,” Davis Gates said. ” … I resent that we are always made the be the heavy in this.”
But CPS officials cited equity as one of the main factors in the decision, saying the COVID-19 pandemic “has greatly increased inequities in the district.”
The district pointed to new data it said shows that pre-kindergarten, special education and Black and Latino students “are attending school at significantly reduced rates relative to prior years and other students this school year.”
CPS also pointed to a what it called the ‘largest enrollment decline in more than two decades driven by fewer new students enrolling in the earliest grades, including a 44 percent decline in Black students enrolled in pre-K compared to last school year.”
CPS said it decided to use a phased-in approach, starting with preschoolers and students in “intensive and moderate” special education programs, because those “require a significantly modified curriculum with support in a separate classroom from general education peers for the majority of the day.”
Those are the students “who most need to be in school,” the CPS release said.
School officials said they’re closely monitoring the pandemic and say transmission of COVID-19 has been low in schools where a “rigorous commitment” to safety protocols are in place.
The union, however, questioned CPS’ ability and commitment to keeping schools safe. The union says it has tracked cases at 30 schools since September, and noted that without students in the schools. Officials said CPS needs to be more transparent and has not committed to wide-ranging testing or contact tracing plans.
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