CPS to Bring Back Some Students for In-Person Learning As Soon As Jan. 11

Approximately 16,700 Chicago Public Schools students in pre-kindergarten and special education classes will return to in-person classes on Jan. 11, school district officials announced Tuesday.

All students in kindergarten through eighth grade could return to school Feb. 1 as part of a hybrid model, officials announced. 

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There is no date for high school students to return to in-person learning — and all high school sports are canceled indefinitely, effective Friday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson announced on Oct. 15 that they planned to bring back preschool and special education students starting Nov. 9 — only to see a second wave of coronavirus infections sweep the city and delay their plans.

Lightfoot’s plan faces fierce opposition from the Chicago Teachers Union, whose leaders say school buildings are not safe for teachers, staff members or students.

Lightfoot told “Chicago Tonight” on Tuesday this is a “simple case of equity.”

Lightfoot has repeatedly said that remote learning has failed students in special education classes and the youngest learners — especially those on the South and West sides, who are primarily Black and Latino.

“Schools are actually quite safe” as long as proper precautions are in place, Lightfoot said.

Jackson said students will suffer a “long-term impact” if they are not able to go to school and risk falling permanently behind.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Lightfoot’s actions were politically motivated.

“Today’s announcement appears to be based on the mayor’s political agenda, because it sure isn’t based on science,” Sharkey said in a statement. “Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster.”

District and city officials said it would be safe to start bringing students back now — but that waiting until after the holiday break would allow students to quarantine after the holidays and any travel they have planned.

Chicago will be under a stay-at-home advisory until at least Dec. 16, as confirmed cases of COVID-19 are continuing to double every 12 days, according to Chicago Department of Public Health data.

The city’s coronavirus test positivity rate is 16%, up from 12.9% a week ago, as calculated by the Chicago Department of Public Health. That metric has tripled in the past 30 days, she added.

There are 2,296 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day in Chicago, on average, up 31% in a week, according to city data.

Based on that data, one in 15 Chicagoans likely has an active COVID-19 infection, according to Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Before students return to school, the case doubling time would need to drop by 50% and double no more than every 18 days, Arwady said.

“Once we do see more stability, even if case rates remain relatively high, I’m confident in-person learning can work and be safely done,” Arwady said.

Private and parochial schools in Chicago have not been a significant source of transmission of COVID-19, officials said. 

District officials plan to test staff members regularly for COVID-19 through a program that will launch before students return to the classroom, officials said. Faculty members would start to return to schools on Jan. 4, with all kindergarten through eighth grade teachers and staff members due back on Jan. 25 before the Feb. 1 launch of the hybrid model.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker imposed new statewide mitigation measures on Tuesday — which marked the 12th consecutive day with more than 10,000 new cases of the virus in Illinois.

A small group of indoor winter sports — bowling, cheer, dance and boy’s swimming and diving — had been allowed up to this point, according to the district. But those, like all other high school sports, will remain on hold until the state determines they can safely move forward.

CPS postponed its high school basketball season until sometime next year. And although other Midwestern states had allowed high school football to move forward, Pritzker has repeatedly refused to allow that sport to be played.

That’s led to protests from student athletes and their families, who have demanded they be allowed to play their seasons this fall.

Parents of students in kindergarten through eighth grade will have until the week of Dec. 7 to decide whether to send their children back to school in person.

As of Tuesday, approximately 34% of students in special education classes and in preschool classes indicated they want to return to in-person learning, officials said.

Approximately 43% of those students’ teachers and staff in their schools indicated they would return to schools to work in person, officials said.

The announcement that some Chicago students will return to in-person classes comes as a number of suburban districts that reopened earlier this year have returned to fully remote instruction.

Matt Masterson contributed to this report.

Follow us on Twitter: @BrandisFriedman@HeatherCherone / @byMattMasterson

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