Parents and educators are growing increasingly concerned that remote learning for students at Chicago Public Schools has only deepened racial disparities in education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New figures from CPS show this year’s drop in enrollment is the greatest it’s been in two decades.
But as the district’s own data reflects an increase in COVID-19 cases, CPS recently announced plans to bring back the youngest and most vulnerable learners, with a goal of bringing back more students in early 2021.
During an interview Tuesday on “Chicago Tonight,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said remote learning is “not working” for pre-K students and those in cluster programs. Under the new plan, those students could come back into classrooms sometime during the second quarter, which begins Nov. 9.
“To be honest, remote learning is not working for a core group of our students, most notably our early learners as well as our special education students in cluster programs,” Jackson said. “And so it is the district’s obligation – it’s a moral obligation – to make sure that those students are learning and getting access to the education they deserve.”
Jackson said those students, a majority of which are enrolled in pre-K classes, account for about 14,000 to 15,000 CPS students.
“Our goal is to see students back in the classroom as soon as it’s possible from a logistical standpoint, but more importantly, from a safety standpoint as well,” Jackson said.
The school district also announced Friday that its citywide enrollment had fallen by nearly 15,000 students, from 355,156 in the 2019-20 school year down to 340,658 at the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
Pre-K enrollment fell among all racial groups, but CPS said enrollment of Black students saw the greatest year-over-year drop, at 44%; Latino student enrollment decreased by 29%.
Jackson said the drop in enrollment reflects the stress COVID-19 puts on working CPS parents who are Black and Latino.
“They have to go to work and unfortunately, because of our decisions, we’ve put them in a position where they have to choose between giving their child access to early education or going to work,” Jackson said. “And of course, you can’t blame a parent for making that choice – they have to provide for their families.”
On Friday, the Chicago Teachers Union and elected officials sent a letter to CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressing concerns about bringing students back into classrooms, including whether CPS school buildings are equipped with proper ventilation.
Jackson said before the end of October, the school district will release a report on the current status of ventilation within school district buildings.
“We feel confident that our buildings are ready to house students and teachers again and we’re going to put that out so it’s transparent to people,” Jackson said.
She also pointed to upcoming CPS plans for meetings at schools to discuss reopening plans and letters of intent to be sent to teachers and staff inquiring whether they will return to school in person or not.
Jackson also said schools reopening will pre-screen students and teachers with temperature checks, direct everyone to wear face masks and practice social distancing along with other COVID-19 public safety guidelines.