by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producerBy CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools officials have released their plan for most students to return to classrooms two days a week this fall on rotating schedules, if public health officials determine it’s safe for in-person classes to resume.

A final decision on whether schools will reopen for in-person classes will not be made until late August, depending on how Chicago is handling the COVID-19 outbreak at the time.

“The reality is we have to be ready for any possibility. COVID-19 has been upredictable from the start, and we have a responsibility to be prepared for what the public health indicators dictate, whether that means remote learning, in-person learning, or something in between,” Lightfoot said. “Any model chosen must meet all necessary health and safety guidelines outlined by public health officials.”

Any parent would be allowed to opt out of in-person classes, regardless of whether their children have a medical condition that puts them at greater risk from COVID. Teachers and staff with medical conditions or caretaking concerns would have to request a leave of absence or special accommodations through procedures to be announced later this month.

Under the plan outlined by the mayor and CPS, students in kindergarten through 10th grade would have two days of in-person classes, two days of independent remote learning, and one day of real-time virtual instruction on Wednesdays.

Essentially, those students would be divided into two groups – one group taking in-person classes every Monday and Tuesday while the second group is at home, the second group taking in-person classes every Thursday and Friday while the first group is at home, and both groups doing real time remote learning every Wednesday.

High school juniors and seniors will do the majority of their learning at home, except for those who need in-person vocational instruction, or other supports that can’t be provided remotely.

Students in special education clusters would be in classrooms full-time, due to their unique needs, and the smaller size of their programs, according to CPS.

“We believe that a hybrid model will be the best model to meet the needs of all of our students throughout the city. This model allows many of our students to reap the benefits that they can only achieve through in-person instruction in front of a highly qualified teacher,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said.

While at school, students would be separated into “pods” of no more than 15 students to minimize contact with others. Each pod would have an assigned classroom with assigned seating for most of the day to allow for social distancing.

Students and staff would be required to wear face coverings throughout the day, and the district also plans routine cleaning and disinfection of buildings, as well as daily temperature checks for everyone entering school buildings.

Jackson said before students even leave for school on the days they have in-person classes, they will have to complete a health screening at home. Start times also will be staggered to minimize contact between pods.

“While we will only bring students back into the classrooms when it’s safe, we’re preparing to take extraordinary steps, because the benefits of learning in person are so profound,” Jackson said.

CPS officials will seek feedback from parents, teachers, and other stakeholders over the next two weeks before releasing the district’s final guidance plan next month. The district is also asking parents to fill out an online survey at cps.edu/reopening2020survey

 

 

“This is a dialogue that will require all of us to confront a challenge that no one has faced before, and in doing so, we must look at the situation honestly, and boldly, and ask ourselves what is the right path to make sure that our kids continue to learn, continue to progress in a safe and nurturing environment,” Lightfoot said.

CPS parent Rebecca Winberg said the district’s back-to-school plan leaves her uneasy in the age of COVID-19.

“I respect the plan in a lot of ways, but there’s nothing that CPS can do at this point to get me, personally, to take my child back into the school,” she said. “I want to see a robust educate from home option.”

With classroom trips and Girl Scout outings just memories now for 7th grader Liliana, mom Rachel Gigliotti said she’ll take the limited return to the classroom with safety precautions.

“This, to me, seems a fair compromise. We’re not expecting everyone to jump right back in. We’ll test the waters,” she said. “If they do remote only, there’s a lot of issues with access. There’s a lot of children they can’t reach.”

The Chicago Teachers Union has said it wants to start the fall with remote learning entirely.

“The reality is that it is simply too dangerous for students, educators and their families to attend school in person,” the union said in a statement Friday afternoon.

“The mayor says that CPS’ plan for reopening will be ‘budget neutral,’ further demonstrating that CPS has no plan to bring on the additional staff necessary to address the risks of conducting in-person school during the pandemic. It’s impossible to resume in-person schooling without more investment, including additional teachers to facilitate smaller class sizes and counselors to address the emotional needs of students impacted by the pandemic.

“The decision by the mayor and CPS to expend time, energy, and money on a plan to reopen school buildings rather than prepare to make full remote learning more rewarding is irresponsible.

“This will inevitably place students and educators at risk of exposure. In a school district where 8 out of 10 students come from Black and Latinx communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, the decision to return children and educators to the classroom has the potential to further enflame the pandemic in our city.”

Lightfoot, however, said she’s confident CPS and CTU can work out an agreement on the fall, and she’s not worried about a work stoppage by teachers.

“Even in your household, when you’re interacting with another human being, are risks. Our job is to make sure that we mitigate those risk, in particular in the school setting,” she said. “The decisions about social distancing and so forth obviously have to reflect the realities of what the school footprint is, but also the school population. That’s why we’ll have a tremendous amount of flexibility to make sure that the plan that is chosen makes sense for their particular school community.”

CPS said it has obtained 1.2 million reusable cloth masks, 42,000 hand sanitizer dispensers, 40,000 containers of disinfectant wipes for classrooms, and more than 22,000 touchless thermometers for temperature checks.

The district has also purchased more than 1 million disposable masks, and tens of thousands of gowns, face shields, gloves, and other PPE for staff such as nurses, special education classroom assistants, food service workers, bus aides, security guards, and building engineers.

Chicago Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady said she supports the CPS reopening framework, and noted that Chicago at the moment largely has the COVID-19 outbreak under control, but she acknowledged she is concerned about a recent slight increase in new cases.

“If one month from now, two months from now, six months from now our local data worsen to a point where we could not support in-classroom learning, or needed to dial back other interactions, we would not hesitate to make that difficult recommendation,” she said.

CPS will hold five public meetings at the end of the month, three in English and two in Spanish, to discuss their reopening plans:

Date: Monday, July 27, 2020
Time: 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Language: English
Registration Link: https://cpsreopeningconversation1.eventbrite.com

Date: Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Language: Spanish
Registration Link: https://cpsreopeningconversation2.eventbrite.com

Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Time: 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Language: Spanish
Registration Link: https://cpsreopeningconversation3.eventbrite.com

Date: Thursday, July 30, 2020,
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Language: English
Registration Link: https://cpsreopeningconversation4.eventbrite.com

Date: Friday, July 31, 2020
Time: 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Language: English
Registration Link: https://cpsreopeningconversation5.eventbrite.com