For the first time in 10 months, some Chicago Public Schools students are set to return to their school buildings Monday.
This comes after months of wrangling between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union, the majority of which is opposed to returning to in-person learning.
In advance of Monday’s reopening, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said remote learning “is not sustainable. Not over the long term. Because it does not serve every student equally, especially those students who are younger, who require additional help and support, or simply don’t have access to a stable learning environment.”
WTTW News reporter Matt Masterson says the first cohort of students will be attending schools that CPS has said are ready to welcome them back safely.
“CPS says this is being done with all these safety precautions in place, like requirements on mask wearing, social distancing, and the district said they’ve even taken additional steps to protect students and educators from COVID,” Masterson said. “But the bigger question is: how many teachers and staff are going to show up? Of about 6,000 educators who were supposed to be there on Monday (Jan. 4), only about 60% actually showed up.”
Part of the reason those teachers may not show up is because many of them don’t believe CPS buildings are ready for a return.
“You have a supermajority of the City Council, you have local school councils across the city, and you have teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians telling you, ‘We need safety, we need transparency and we need agency,’” Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates said Tuesday on “Chicago Tonight.” “What they have chosen to do is to make a plan without the benefit of all those stakeholders and tell us to trust them, they have it. And what many members are finding when they come into the school communities is that you can’t trust them, because all of the mitigation factors that they have said are not there.”
But CPS CEO Janice Jackson says schools have done all they can to bring students back safely.
“Let us not forget that individuals had been working in our buildings since the spring — principals, nutrition support staff, janitorial staff. So we have been implementing these protocols since the beginning of pandemic,” Jackson said. “Obviously, it’s going to be more important that we do it well when children are back into our buildings. Everybody shares in this excitement and but also this concern to do this right because the stakes so high.”
Teachers who decide to stay home on Monday will face financial implications.
“CPS has said that they’re going to warn these teachers of this expectation that they do need to be there,” Masterson said. “On Friday, they said that those who don’t show up beginning Monday are going to be deemed absent without leave and they not going to be paid while they’re out. That can be remedied as soon as they come back to work, but for now that’s what they’re looking at if they don’t show up.”