Chicago Public Schools students returned to their classrooms across the city Monday morning on the first day of the new academic year.
Mayor Brandon Johnson joined CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates at Beidler Elementary School on the city’s West Side early Monday as kids began the 2023-24 school year.
“As a former teacher and the father of three CPS students, the first day of school is dear to my heart. Meeting new students and welcoming back former students is a time-honored tradition for students and educators alike,” Johnson, who is overseeing the first new school year since his election in the spring, said in a statement. “I wish our teachers, staff, and school communities, and of course our students, a great school year full of learning, friendship, and growth.”
Wishing our @ChiPubSchools students, families and school communities a happy first day of school! As a father of three CPS students, I want the same hopes and dreams for your families as I do for my own. Know that your mayor loves you, sees you and will always have your back. pic.twitter.com/SjLZbFI87W
— Mayor Brandon Johnson (@ChicagosMayor) August 21, 2023
As students return to school, Chicago faces the potential for extreme heat throughout the week. The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat watch for Wednesday and Thursday, as the city could face heat indices of 105-115 degrees.
Martinez said all classrooms will be outfitted with at least a window unit air conditioner, though he noted that some building hallways may not have cooling.
“Our team has been working around the clock all of last week, this weekend,” he said Monday outside Beidler Elementary. “We’re going to continue to keep an ear out for any school that’s having issues, but hopefully the heat will pass over a few days and then we’ll continue forward.”
Martinez said schools will also put special procedures in place for outdoor activities like recess during the intense heat.
CPS said it has hired nearly 500 more teachers and more than 700 more support staffers than it had at the start of last school year. But a lack of bus drivers — which the district has blamed on a national shortage — has jeopardized transportation for some students at the start of the year.
CPS said it has prioritized transportation for diverse learners and students in temporary living situations. As of Monday, the district said it provided transportation for more than 7,100 such students and provided monthly stipends to help cover the cost of transportation to another 3,100 families.
Martinez said the district’s diverse learner travel times are at a “record low” and promised additional information later this week.
“Over the month, we’ll continue to add (drivers),” he said. “My goal is to just not stop, we’re gonna just continue.”