Chicago Public Schools will start the school year on Sept. 8 the same way they ended the last academic year — with all students taking classes remotely, officials announced Wednesday.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CEO Janice Jackson announced that officials had scrapped efforts to start the school year with a hybrid model that would have had most students in class for two days a week.
However, a survey of parents found that a large percentage of them were not yet comfortable sending their children to school.
Just 20% of African American and Latino parents at both the high school and elementary school levels indicated they would send their children to school, according to that survey.
Lightfoot said the hybrid plan made sense a month ago, but not after Chicago has seen a sustained and steady increase in the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
An average of 277 Chicagoans have been diagnosed each day with the coronavirus during the past week, a 5% increase from the previous week, according to Chicago Department of Public Health data. The city’s average case positivity rate is 4.8%, according to the data.
Jackson said the decision was “not easy” to make.
The decision is “rooted in the public health data,” Lightfoot said.
“Make no mistake, here in Chicago we are in a better place than most other areas in the country and in the surrounding area,” Lightfoot said. “But the fact of the matter is, we are seeing an increase in cases. Combined with the trends that were seeing, the decision to start remotely makes sense for a district of CPS’s size and diversity.”
Students will get a “full day” of instruction, including small group and independent study, Jackson said, promising parents a final plan in the coming days.
Lightfoot dismissed suggestions that criticism from the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union about reopening schools forced her to act, even as the decision was first reported hours after the union scheduled a meeting of delegates to consider the first step toward a strike.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Lightfoot’s decision to start the school year remotely was the correct call, but said it should signal the start of a renewed effort to rethink public education in Chicago amid a pandemic.
“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 in a statement. “CPS’s 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 said the remote learning plan for the fall quarter will be “more structured” and “sustainable” than the one in place during the spring, and will be designed to ensure that students in special education classes have their academic needs met.
“Teachers and students will be expected to log onto Google on a daily basis for a home-room style check-in and utilize Google for live video instruction,” according to a statement from CPS officials.
Attendance will be taken, all assignments will be graded and all students will receive letter grades, Jackson said. Principals will get additional training on how to ensure standards are being met, she added.
Teachers will be available throughout the entire day, Jackson said, in an effort to ensure that the gap between “the haves and the have nots” does not continue to grow.
Officials are also developing plans to ensure that students in special education and English language classes get high-quality instruction, Jackson said.
Another 36,000 new computing devices will be distributed to students, after 128,000 were distributed in the spring, officials said.
School officials said they would also continue to expand free, high-speed internet access to approximately 100,000 CPS students, an effort that began in the spring. However, Jackson said she could not immediately provide data on how many students have city-provided access to the internet.
Free grab-and-go meals will continue to be available at schools, Jackson said. More than 15 million meals were served in April, May and June, she said.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said officials were forced to rethink the plan to allow Chicago Public Schools to reopen amid a “significant” daily increase, on average, of between 80 and 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the past month.
The fact that that increase has been sustained, Arwady said it was possible if not probable that another 80 to 100 cases per day on average could be added during the next month. That would mean the pandemic would again be out of control in Chicago, she added.
Arwady said she was hopeful that the pandemic would be under better control by Nov. 9, when CPS students will start the second quarter and could return to the hybrid learning plan.
Lightfoot said plans are also being developed to offer instruction and care for children whose parents are essential workers and cannot work from home.