CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools students return to school Monday, about two weeks earlier than normal.

Student safety is front and center as the 2022-2023 school year begins, but student health, staffing shortages and reliable transportation are also big concerns for CPS.

The school system will spend an additional $22 million this year on its Safe Passage Program — and police officers will continue to be stationed in some public schools.

The new safety plan was unveiled in response to the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas and the Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park.

Last week, for the first time in four years, CPS conducted an active shooter drill with both police and fire departments.

Nationwide, school districts are facing the hurdle of having low staffing numbers. In Chicago, more than 500 positions have gone unfilled across CPS schools.

According to the Chicago Tribune, those spots are for interventionist, staffers who would help the 300,000 plus students with catching up after dealing with learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said staffing numbers are the same from last year, but did admit those numbers are still a problem.

The transportation shortage is still an issue also, causing some students to have a hour and a half long ride to school.

CPS CEO Martinez released the following statement:

“We are excited to welcome back our amazing students and families today as we begin a new year of teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom,” said CEO Martinez. “This is going to be a great year of learning and making new connections with friends and mentors as we all emerge from more than two difficult years of the pandemic.”

FREE RIDES FOR STUDENTS

For the first time, Metra and Pace are joining the CTA this year in offering free rides to students. K-12 students, and an accompanying adult, can ride buses and trains for free from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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City, district leaders hold press conference

Mayor Lightfoot and CEO Martinez also held a press conference from Excel Academy of South Shore High School to kick-off the new school year. View the entirety of their remarks, to include answer to reporter questions, in the video below.