Although the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) opposes the decision, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is set to resume in-person learning early next year.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials recently announced that students in pre-K, as well as students enrolled in intensive and moderate-cluster classrooms, will return on Jan. 11.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade will begin on Feb. 1 using a hybrid model.

High school students in general-education programs will continue remote learning, and CPS officials will evaluate their in-person learning options in 2021.

CPS has utilized remote learning since the start of the school year in September in order to stem the spread of COVID-19.

One local principal, who did not want to be identified, remains optimistic about the plan.

“The good news is we have two months,” the principal said. “We are waiting for more information. They have been doing preparations.”

Lightfoot said in a Nov. 17 news release that beginning in-person instruction in January allows families to quarantine after the holidays. She said certain students have suffered as school buildings remain closed.

“While remote learning has allowed many of our students to continue their studies over the past eight months, the reality is that our Black and Latinx students, our youngest students and highest-need learners have not been equitably served,” Lightfoot said. “The decision to begin in-person learning this January will restore their access to high-quality instruction and is the result of balancing our commitment to equity with our current public health situation. The health of our students, their families and our school communities remain our top priority, and we will continue to work closely with CPS and [the Chicago Department of Health] to ensure their safety as they transition back to the classroom.”

Officials said other states and nations have shown that in-person learning can be conducted safely despite the virus.

“It’s our moral imperative to do everything in our power to safely open schools beginning with our youngest and highest-needs learners, and the decision to re-open in January will ensure that Black and Latinx families—many of whom are essential workers and cannot ensure their children are fully supported through remote learning—have more equitable access to instruction this year,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson. “While we are eager to open our doors as soon as possible, beginning in-person learning in January is the right decision because it will minimize learning disruption from planned breaks and allow time for students and staff to limit activity prior to resuming in-person learning.”

Face coverings will be provided to all staff and students, officials said, and students and educators will be grouped into pods. Daily screenings will take place, and every classroom and front office will have an air filtration device.

In a news release, CTU officials blasted the decision, saying it is “wholly de-linked from any health criteria, including community infection rates” and had no input from parents, students, educators and other stakeholders.

“Today’s announcement appears to be based on the mayor’s political agenda because it sure isn’t based on science,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster.”

The CTU criticized the decision to have school clerks, technology coordinators, security guards and other employees currently working in school buildings, and it said staff have been diagnosed with the virus.

“This mayor talks about equity, but where is the equity for the Black and Brown clerks she’s needlessly forcing to work in person, at the same time she’s telling Chicagoans to shelter in place?” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. “We can find the need for equity during a pandemic, but we can’t find it for the West Side, which only has four school libraries, or for predominantly Black schools and communities, which are chronically under-funded and under-resourced compared to others?”

Gates called Lightfoot’s plan a “cruel and dangerous experiment.” It doesn’t represent equity, she said, but is instead “a death sentence.”

Sharkey said Lightfoot isn’t being accountable.

“This mayor says the buck stops with her, and that she would lead during the pandemic with empathy and science,” Sharkey said, “but returning thousands of people to schools as COVID rages is far from empathetic, and the science is unclear.”

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