CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Public Schools will resume in-person learning in January, noting that remote learning instituted in March due to COVID-19 has not well-served many of its students, officials announced Tuesday.
Pre-kindergarten and students enrolled in intensive and moderate cluster classrooms will begin in-person learning on Jan. 11, 2021. Kindergarten through 8th grade students will return to the classroom on Feb. 1. A return date for high school students is still under consideration, officials said.
The school district will allow parents to decide whether they want their children to return to school.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement that remote learning has allowed many students to continue their studies the past eight months. However, the district’s youngest and Black and Latinx students, and highest-need learners haven’t been equitably served.
“The decision to begin in-person learning this January will restore their access to high-quality instruction and is the result of balancing our commitment to equity with our current public health situation,” Lightfoot said. “The health of our students, their families and our school communities remain our top priority, and we will continue to work closely with CPS and CDPH to ensure their safety as they transition back to the classroom.”
The plan to return students to the classroom comes as COVID-19 infections surge nationwide. Chicago’s seven-day average test positivity stood at 16% Tuesday, the highest since mid-May.
The Chicago Teachers Union has strongly opposed reopening schools to its approximately 355,000 students while the pandemic continues to spread through the city. The union is calling the reopening date “arbitrary” and said the plan “ignores” the current surge of COVID-19.
“Today’s announcement appears to be based on the mayor’s political agenda, because it sure isn’t based on science,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster.”
Chicago’s health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has said she is confident students and staff can be kept safe at schools. She noted Tuesday that coronavirus cases at schools have gone up in the past week following increased community spread.
Chicago school officials noted numerous states and some European countries are keeping their schools open despite a surge in the pandemic because mitigation strategies have been successful. They also pointed to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announcement the state is moving to Tier 3 status on Friday, which permits in-person instruction. The governor said Tuesday he will “continue to rely on local school boards to apply the right approach here.”
Several suburban Chicago school districts have announced a return to remote learning this month as Illinois sees rising cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s our moral imperative to do everything in our power to safely open schools beginning with our youngest and highest-needs learners,” said Chicago schools CEO Janice Jackson, adding that re-opening in January will ensure that Black and Latinx families have more equitable access to instruction this year.”
Catholic Schools of Chicago has had in-person learning for its approximately 78,000 students since the start of the school year with few reports of student infections. However, it will begin January with two weeks of remote learning to allow families that travel during the holidays to for 14 days to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in its schools.
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