CHICAGO —The first day of school is always a big deal. The first day of school in a pandemic, even bigger. For tens of thousands of CPS students Monday was their first time back in-person in 17 months.
Mayor Lightfoot toured CPS classrooms Monday morning to mark the return of full-time in-person learning for the first since March 2020.
“This is a very important and magical day,” she said. “I saw today scene after scene of students and teachers hugging and embracing and so excited to see each other and literally walk hand in hand into this new exciting school year.”
Some are giddy. Others are ambivalent about returning.
Kenya Wilson, a senior at Ombudsman, said she would have been fine staying remote.
“It’s really no point of coming if we got to wear our masks,” she said. “We might as well stay at home and just take our masks off and do own work at home cause now we used to that.”
In-person learning in a pandemic is filled with obstacles and the need for safety measures.
“Months of planning have gone into place to keep everyone healthy and safe,” CPS Interim CEO Jose Torres said.
Among the safety protocols is an indoor mask mandate, social distancing of 3 feet where possible and a full vaccination requirement for all employees by October 15.
Also, students can opt for weekly coronavirus testing and CPS is offering a Virtual Academy for students who need e-learning due to medical reasons.
CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union were scheduled to hold another bargaining session Monday to negotiate safety protocols. As talks heat up, both sides are sharpening rhetoric.
CTU accuses the district of rolling back elements of the safety plan.
For example, in February the union and district agreed to weekly surveillance testing for all in-person employees. Now testing is optional if a student of member of staff self-reports COVID symptoms or close contact with a person who’s tested positive.
In a letter to members Sunday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey wrote, “CPS is a mess and the mayor’s reopening plan is not ready for prime time. But it’s a familiar position, because educators are called upon year after year to turn water into wine.”
Lightfoot insists CPS is ready.
“Our schools are safe,” she said. “CPS put in over $100 million in mitigations.”
Some parents told WGN News they’re going to keep their kids home hoping to push the district to offer a full remote learning option. It is likely there will not be official attendance numbers for the district until next week.