While Chicago Public Schools will be providing grab-and-go food boxes to families at schools across the city during the mandated COVID-19 closures, the district is imploring families not to send their children to those buildings because there will be no one there to watch them.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson on Monday said that unlike the Chicago Teachers Union strike that shut down schools for two weeks last fall, no adult supervision will be available at schools for watching students during the day.
“We want to make sure that families understand they should not send their children to school,” Jackson said. “It is important to note that this scenario is unprecedented. This is not like the strike.”
Beginning Tuesday, CPS and all other public and private school districts statewide will shut down until at least March 31, per an order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, in an effort to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus. Vaughn Occupational High School, a specialized education school on the Northwest Side, was already shut down last week after a staffer there tested positive for the virus.
Even though the state is only mandating school closures in March, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it’s possible that CPS schools could remain closed into April.
“This is an incredibly fluid situation, which is an understatement,” she said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself and predict what might be happening in April because, as a matter of fact, it’s hard for us to predict what’s going to happen one or two days in advance … If we need to, we’ll go further, but I think we need to let people really socialize the changes that have been made even since Friday.”
While schools won’t be open, Lightfoot said the Chicago Park District will provide enhanced programming for students at 18 locations throughout the city on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
CPS has more than 350,000 students, and Lightfoot said it provides 40 million lunches and 20 million breakfasts to its students annually.
The district has committed to providing all students – not just those who are eligible for free or reduced lunch – with free food packages during the closures. Each child can receive a box containing three days’ worth of breakfasts and lunches. Those meals will be prepped, bagged and distributed outside of the school buildings.
Meal boxes will be available for pickup from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, at all neighborhood schools and a handful of charter schools.
Over the weekend, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey tweeted that another case had been confirmed at Sheridan Math and Science Academy in Bridgeport. That school was closed down immediately and staff will be placed on a paid leave of absence. A COVID-19 case was also reportedly confirmed at Mansueto High School, a charter school in Brighton Park.
Jackson on Monday urged families to follow guidance from the Chicago Department of Public Health and avoid identifying those who have contracted the virus in order to avoid stigmatizing them in the community.
“Nothing is gained by outing people and identifying them as potential patients,” she said. “We cannot threaten their privacy, we must protect their privacy and we have to ensure that they don’t lose more as a result of us disclosing too much information.”
Beginning Tuesday, all CPS school buildings will undergo a deep cleaning of all hard surfaces, flooring, walls and high-touch points. Families and students will not be permitted inside during the closures, and kids were instructed to bring home any items they may need from their schools in the coming weeks on Monday.
The Illinois State Board of Education has said it will treat the closures as “act of God” days – meaning they won’t be made up later in the year.
Along with providing food, grade-level enrichment activity packets will also be available for pick-up at schools. Jackson said the district can’t mandate that those assignments be graded, but believes teachers will be using any tool at their disposal to encourage their students to do the work.
“As a parent, I will say this, I’m not popular in my house, but they should be doing (the work) anyway,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about learning for the sake of learning, so this is really an opportunity for people to apply that in their homes.”