‘Our kids are happy to be back’: CPS high school students return to classrooms

Coronavirus

CHICAGO — Some Chicago Public High School students returned to the classrooms Monday for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

High schoolers were the last group to have a hybrid in-person option. Thirty-six percent of students, about 26,000 kids, were expected back. Pre-kindergarten, special education and elementary school students have had that option since February. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson welcomed students back to Walter Payton College Prep for the first time in 13 months.

“This is an important day for us,” Lightfoot said. “We experienced teenagers in full blow but certainly I think there’s a buzz and energy in the building.”

Jackson said Monday was the “the happiest,” she’s been in a while.

On Sunday, the Chicago Teachers Union announced 83 percent of its members approved a high school reopening plan. A key part of the agreement with CPS is a vaccination program for students age 16 and older and their families. Blocks of vaccine appointments will be set aside for them. CTU President Jesse Sharkey hails it as the first of its kind in the nation. 

“We’re going to celebrate what happened today,” Jackson said. “We got our kids back in school, our kids are happy to be back in school, and it is one step toward a long process that will end with all of our kids having access to in-person instruction five days a week.”

Only three selective enrollment schools will have a majority of students return: Jones College Prep, Walter Payton College Prep and Whitney Young.

At Lane Tech College Prep, more than 2,000 students returned to the classrooms, accounting for just half its student population.

“I’m looking forward to probably seeing my friends and probably learning something now,” said Jose Gomez, a junior at Lane Tech College Prep.

South and West Side high schools were expected to welcome back fewer students. Both schools are in neighborhoods hit especially hard by COVID-19.

Jackson says addressing students’ mental health and achievement gaps are among the top priorities for the last two months of the 2020-21 school year and into the fall.

“My goal is to have every kid back full time,” Jackson said. “My goal is a return to normal, whatever that new normal is.”

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