CPS could release preliminary fall plan Friday; CTU calls for classes to be remote this fall

Coronavirus

CHICAGO — As soon as Thursday, Chicago Public Schools could release a preliminary plan about how the district will keep everyone safe in the classroom this fall, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The news comes after CPS officials met with the Chicago Teachers Union. The governor has also expressed his concerns.

Gov. JB Pritzker said he’s worried for his own kids’ safety and all students throughout the state.

“I’m deeply concerned to make sure they’re safe. In terms of my confidence level I wake up every day since COVID-19 hit and I look at the numbers of what’s happening the infection rates. the number of deaths in our state every single day. A number of test that we are doing. And my confidence level changes every day as a result of that,” he said.

As a result, he says school districts needs to make sure they get the planning done in time for this school year.

​“We need a voice of parents involved in this, and that we have hybrid opportunities so that every school district has both the potential for in person learning and potential for that our kids who need to do e-learning either as a result of some pre-existing condition vulnerabilities or because things get worse,” he said.

The CTU is pushing for classes to taught only by remote learning when school resumes in the fall, arguing there isn’t enough time to return to in-person instruction effectively and safely amid the pandemic.

While Chicago Public Schools is set to release its own plan for the school year soon, the CTU issued a 10-page report Wednesday night outlining protocols it says will create the lowest risk for students and staff, while arguing there isn’t enough time to prepare before the school year begins.

During a press conference held over Zoom Thursday, the Chicago Teachers Union said members want remote learning for more than 355,000 CPS students until the district puts a comprehensive plan in place that protects everyone. 

“We need time for a solution and adequate training,” speech language pathologist Sheresa Matthews said. 

Charter schools are slated to open Aug. 20, and President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Besty Devos said they want schools open, but there’s no plan from them yet.

In a statement, Chicago Public Schools said no decision has been made about whether students will return for in-person instruction in the fall, and students, parents and staff will be able to weigh in when the district releases its “preliminary framework” for the school year this week.

“We are speaking regularly with union leadership as we work to develop the strongest possible plans for the fall, and we will continue to engage a variety of stakeholders to ensure our plans best meet their needs,” CPS Chief Communications Officer Michael Passman said in a statement.

Among the measures called for by the union are free and comprehensive testing and contact tracing, safety guidelines for in-person instruction outlined by the CDC, emphasis on hygiene and social distancing, and staggered start and dismissal times.

But the CTU says reopening in the fall would prove detrimental to students and staff, especially considering many are people of color, whose communities have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. They say they could face greater infection risks if schools reopen.

“There is no way to create a plan in this moment that addresses stakeholders’ needs and protects our children and the adults who care for them,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said in a statement.

The CTU admits remote learning is a poor substitute for in-person classes, but said even if they return to school social distancing restrictions would limit the attention and assistance teachers could provide. Additionally, they argue many teachers have preexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

In a survey of 4,800 CPS teachers conducted by the union, 40 percent said they believed in-classroom instruction should not resume until a vaccine is widely available.

Mary Rhodes has two students in CPS, and says online learning did not go well this spring. The district’s own data shows about 60 percent of students got online for school three or more days a week.

Still, she thinks it’s “the best way to go” this fall. She wants more accountability, more structure and more teachers and parents engaged. Even so, she says the health of her kids is the most important.

“How could we send our kids back… it just seems like we’re playing russian roulette and someone’s gonna die,” Rhodes said.

Largely inspired by the Los Angeles Teachers Union, the union issued its own plan Wednesday pushing for CPS to follow in the footsteps of other sizeable districts like LA and San Diego that opted for remote learning in the fall.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously said she hoped students could return to class in the fall, under certain restrictions.

The city’s Phase 4 plan for reopening outlines what that could look like, with parents and employees wearing facial coverings at all times, kids being screened before entering class and students staying in stable cohorts with assigned teachers.

A senior at Lane Tech, Sam Rhodes says just like remote learning, having staggered start times or staggered days will be tough.

“I don’t want to be away from half my class,” they said.

Lightfoot and CPS officials said a decision on what school will look like will not be made until closer to the start of the school year, possibly in late August, as consultations with public health officials, parents, teachers and students are still underway.

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