It’s been more than a year since Chicago Public Schools students have sat inside their classrooms full time. Now, with mask mandates, vaccine requirements for staff and other COVID-19 safety protocols in place, CPS children are about to embark on a year unlike any other — and parents are anxiously hoping for the best.
Tahra Workman-Mandell has two children in CPS: a sophomore and a kindergartener who has asthma. Workman-Mandell says while she worries about her younger child getting infected, she believes the kids and schools are ready to make a return to in-person learning.
“I do think that we’re just looking at the numbers that Chicago and Illinois have done a better job than most of the country in terms of keeping delta (variant) numbers low,” she said. “So I’m confident. I do think that there’s probably more that CPS can do. Lowering the class sizes is probably the biggest thing, keeping the kids separated, but I am confident.”
With two great-grandchildren in CPS, Darlene O’Banner also feels good about the return to in-person learning. She enrolled her 3rd grader and 8th grader in a summer program to get them ready for fall.
“The principal did an enrichment program for the parents to help re-engage us back into the building, our children back into the building,” O’Banner said. “The parent volunteers are back in the building and we just had an open house to allow the parents to come in, to see the setting of the school, the circulation of the school and I’m comfortable … I’m ready to go back and look forward to them going back.”
While Workman-Mandell and O’Banner say they’ve received good communication from their children’s schools, parent LaTeShia Hollingsworth, who has three children in CPS, says she’s had a different experience, and doesn’t feel as though students and parents are being adequately supported.
“At first I was very excited about going back … when [my children] did go back, they just was like, we don’t want to go back no more, we want to stay home and learn from home,” she said. “They was complaining about how the school were not properly handing out masks like they should.”
Hollingsworth is also frustrated by what she sees as inadequate planning by CPS.
“[CPS] had at least over six months to come up with a proper plan so that the kids can return back," she said. "So this is what y’all came up with after all these months? So I’m concerned. I want them to go back, but I’m still concerned.”
O’Banner notes that while the pandemic has stretched to 18 months, much about the situation remains new, so she is prepared for yet another change in plans.
“The whole world is dealing with something that we never had to deal before,” O’Banner said. “If we have to go back on remote learning then we just have to go back and then let the COVID rate go back down. … Our kids have got to go to school one way or the other.”
Though much of the district's plan for a safe return relies on parents not sending their children to school when they have possible symptoms of COVID-19, Workman-Mandell says the city and state’s adherence to protocols to this point gives her assurance that most families will do the best they can.
“I am confident that I think most parents will do the right thing,” she said. “Obviously there are going to be some bad actors, but I do think that most parents will be doing the right thing.”