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CHICAGO As the state of Illinois has now recorded over 11,000 deaths due to COVID-19, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is defending CPS’ decision to return to in-person learning in January.

The plan, announced Tuesday, received immediate criticism from union leaders, including the Chicago Principals Association, who claim they have not been included in those discussions.

Dr. Janice Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, announced that preschoolers and some special education students will return to in-person learning on January 11. K through 8 students are slated to return on February 1, with high school students continuing e-learning until further notice.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said studies from across the world and in other districts in the state show schools are safe if proper mitigation measures are followed.

Lightfoot said she’s concerned about students that don’t do well in remote learning, and that for some students, there is no replacement for in-person learning.

“For those students, you cannot replicate those kinds of crucial in-person support by looking at a Zoom screen. It’s just not going to happen. And so we need to make sure that consistent with the public health mandates that we are building a pathway for those kids to get back into the classroom,” Lightfoot said.

Officials for the Chicago Teachers Union are not convinced that the schools will be safe for students and faculty to return to.

“Multiple families have contracted the virus and at least one teacher and security officer have died. These aren’t random statistics on an accountant spreadsheet. These are living, breathing, dedicated workers who don’t want to have to choose between their lives and their livelihood,” CTU Recording Secretary Christel Williams-Hayes said.

Chicago Principals Association President Troy LaRaviere said that the reopening plan must be done correctly, and that the city has failed the school system throughout the pandemic.

“We want to get our students in classrooms with the services they need. But we want to get it right. Every reopening plan you’ve had since March has failed, you failed our students, our communities, our staff, and you failed us,” LaRaviere said.

Parents will maintain the option to continue e-learning. The deadline to make that decision known to CPS is Monday, December 7.