Chicago public schools to be fully remote this fall

FAN Editor

Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday ditched plans to have some students in classrooms to start the school year and announced a fully remote learning plan for the fall, CBS Chicago reports. This comes as the state faces a slow but steady rise in new COVID-19 cases and the possibility of a strike vote by the Chicago Teachers Union next week.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice K. Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday that all students would be learning remotely for at least the first part of the 2020-21 school year.

“In a perfect world, students would be in classrooms more not less, but unfortunately that is not where we find ourselves today,” Jackson said.

Three weeks ago, CPS announced plans for a hybrid approach to the start of the school year, with most students in classrooms twice a week and learning from home three days a week. The district then sent out surveys to parents and held virtual town hall meetings last week to discuss the plan.

Jackson said that based on feedback from parents, “It was evident that our families were not comfortable with the state of the pandemic, and the national response.”

According to CPS, only 28.1% of elementary school parents and 33.5% of high school parents said they planned to send their children to school if classrooms reopened in the fall, while 40.8% of elementary school parents, and 37.8% of high school parents said they wouldn’t. The rest were not sure.

The idea of returning to classrooms was especially unpopular among Black and Latinx families. According to the CPS survey:

  • 4% of the parents of Black elementary school students and 23% of the parents of Black high schoolers said they would send their children to school.
  • 18% of the parents of Latinx elementary school students and 23.1% of the parents of Latinx high school students said they would send their kids to school.

“Although our families expressed how much they wanted to return to their school communities, and how much their students missed their friends and teachers, they did not feel that this is the right time” to have children back in classrooms, according to Jackson.

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The announcement to shelve the hybrid plan for the start of the school year comes less than a day after sources confirmed the Chicago Teachers Union was planning to hold a possible strike vote over the reopening plan as early as next week to pressure CPS into starting the school year with remote learning only. The union had repeatedly criticized the hybrid plan in recent weeks, and had said the only safe option for back to school was a fully remote model.

In a statement Tuesday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the mayor and CPS need to commit to supporting every student and family through the pandemic.

“Our remote learning experience must include the infrastructure, professional development, family outreach and staff support to make remote learning robust and enriching for every student. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there. CPS must immediately start planning transparently and in partnership with our union to provide every student the educational, social and emotional supports they need to learn and grow,” Sharkey said. 

“We may not be teaching and supporting students in person this fall, but tens of thousands of teachers, clinicians, PSRPs, nurses, librarians and more stand ready to support our students through this pandemic,” he added. “CPS’ remote learning plan must vastly improve on student and family experiences from the spring, and experts on the ground—our members—must be equal partners with the district in crafting those remote learning plans.”

Lightfoot denied that pressure from CTU tipped the scales on the decision for how to restart school in the fall.

“As we have now repeatedly said about every decision that we’ve made in the context of this pandemic, we have to be guided by the science, period,” she said. “When we announced the potential for a hybrid model some weeks ago, we were in a very different place in the arc of the pandemic.”

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Chicago is now averaging 277 new COVID-19 cases per day, compared to as low as 170 four to five weeks ago, and the average seven-day positive test rate has risen from 3.8% a month ago to 4.8% as of Tuesday.

The CPS decision on entirely remote classes to start the new school year gives district officials, teachers, and staff a month to develop a more comprehensive plan for virtual learning than what was used in the spring.

“We have learned a lot of lessons from this past spring in order to improve remote learning. Students will be engaged for the entirety of a normal school day through a mixture of live real-time instruction with their classmates and teachers, small group activities, as well as independent learning,” Jackson said.

Lightfoot said she understands the remote learning plan will be a struggle for many parents who have to juggle work, childcare, and other needs at home.

“No one should have to choose between work and whether their child will have the resources that they need to thrive, and we will make sure that that is not a choice that has to happen,” she said. “In order to support families that don’t have the luxury of working from home, or have the resources to hire childcare, we have already started working with our community partners to develop plans to ensure that all students are safely cared for. Parents and families deserve peace of mind, and it is our responsibility to do everything that we can to deliver that.”

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