Chicago’s reopening plan expected this week

School systems in New York City and Los Angeles have released their plans to reopen schools this fall. The pressure is on Chicago’s leaders to release theirs.

Girl sitting at a table doing schoolwork on a laptop.
Chicago asked families to weigh in on multiple scenarios involving a blend of in-person and remote learning. (Annie Sprat/Unsplash)

New York will blend learning remotely and in-person, while Los Angeles will hold school virtually in the fall.

With the nation’s largest two districts now revealing their plans, the pressure is on Chicago: What will leaders decide? 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson have both said they want in-person learning if possible, and a recent parent survey gives families three options to consider: full-time school with masks and safety precautions, a blended option where students attend school two days a week and learn virtually the other three, and a third, less-specific option that blends in-person learning and virtual learning.

There’s no option for full-time remote learning in the survey; the district separately surveyed parents on learning at home. 

A tentative plan is expected imminently. Both the mayor and schools chief have said they will engage parents and families before anything is official. A district spokeswoman said that leaders have relied on surveys, focus groups, and a 100-person team of school-based leaders in drafting its plans. 

The city’s teachers union, however, has said it wants more involvement in the discussion. Last week, the union released a survey that showed 85% of members who took part believe educators should not return to school buildings without extensive safety precautions, such as daily temperature checks, school safety teams and more; roughly 40% said they do not believe in-person instruction should resume until after a coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available.

Union leaders have voiced concerns about any bid to reopen school buildings without safety planning and precautions.

The pressure has ratcheted up on districts to release plans for in-person learning in the fall, amid heated conversations nationwide about what poses the greater risk: the health risks of returning to in-person learning during a pandemic or the academic risks of keeping students scattered in their homes.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has encouraged districts to return to in-person learning, but state guidelines give districts a lot of leeway to decide. Some smaller districts have opted for full-time remote learning, while others have floated scenarios with shorter school days or delayed starts to the year. (Click here to see our tracker detailing what more than a dozen Illinois districts have said so far.)

Even as some districts contemplate starting earlier or later, Chicago Public Schools has consistently said school will start Sept. 8 as it originally planned. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday that Chicago’s announcement will be accompanied by an “engagement process” and she expects to hear from the public.

“(The process) really is going to be focused on getting feedback from parents and other community stakeholders around what in person learning would look like this fall,” said Lightfoot at a public appearance on Monday. “Fundamentally, whether or not that happens, is going to be dictated by what our public health metrics look like at that time.”

She added: “The one thing we’ve also got to emphasize is the best plans that I’ve seen around the country, not one of them can eliminate entirely the risk of a COVID infection, so we have to be realistic about what we are talking about.” 

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