Chicago schools to resume in-person learning next week

Chicago schools to resume in-person learning next week
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Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plans to resume in-person learning for some students next week, although several teachers, who were directed to return to the classrooms on Monday to prepare, stayed home due to concerns about COVID-19.

Starting next week, the country’s third-largest school district will begin allowing preschool and some special education students the option to return to in-person instruction for the first time since March or to continue online learning. 

CPS's phased reopening will permit students from kindergarten to eighth grade to opt into in-person classes beginning on Feb. 1. The district has not yet provided a date for high school students to return to in-person instruction. 

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But the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has vocally opposed the district’s reopening plan, citing safety concerns amid the pandemic, and noted several of its members were electing not to return “until buildings are safe.” 

The district told preschool and some special education instructors to report to classrooms on Monday, while staff for kindergarten through eighth grade will be instructed to return Jan. 25.

“CPS wants to force pre-K and special education cluster teachers back into buildings on Monday, six days before Chicago Mayor Lori LightfootLori LightfootChicago approves creation of new civilian police oversight group 56 people shot, 11 dead, in Chicago over weekend Three undercover officers shot on Chicago's South Side MORE’s most recent stay-at-home order expires — and before health professionals can gauge any additional post-holiday risk of spread,” the union said in a release.

Out of the more than 5,000 staff instructed to report in-person on Monday, about 1,800 requested special accommodations with about 600 receiving approval, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said, according to NBC Chicago. It was unclear how many of the staff showed up on Monday. 

The district indicated that it had approved accommodations to work from home for educators with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recognized medical condition. 

More than 30 of the city’s elected aldermen also signed onto a letter sent to Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, in which they said they were “deeply concerned” about the reopening plan and its approach to equity and safety, the Chicago Tribune reported.  

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But the school district responded to the union’s backlash and the aldermen’s letter, saying that “overwhelming scientific evidence” shows that schools can “safely reopen.”

“The CTU has not identified any area where the district's plan falls short of public health guidelines and the CTU's last-minute tactics are deeply disrespectful to the 77,000 mostly Black and Latinx families who selected in-person learning,” district spokesperson Emily Bolton said. 

“It is the district's expectation that teachers without an accommodation report to work, just as principals, custodial staff, engineers, and food service staff have throughout the entirety of the pandemic,” she added. 

Several Chicago pediatricians and infectious disease experts vocalized their support for the district’s reopening plan in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed last week.

The teachers union noted in its release that more than two-thirds of Black and Brown families “rejected returning their children to school buildings until the pandemic is under control and classrooms can be shown to be safe.”