CPS announces remote learning to continue into fall

CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION members on strike in a photograph taken early in 2019. The union threatened a new strike if in-person instruction was mandated by the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Courtesy of Twitter)

Earlier survey asked parents to decide

By Patrick Forrest

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that Chicago Public Schools’ return in the fall will be fully remote amid increased COVID-19 numbers throughout the city. Chicago’s Covid-19 positivity rate has increased from 3.9 percent of tests given to 4.7 percent over the past two weeks.

“The decision to begin the 2020-2021 CPS school year remotely during the first quarter is rooted in public health data and the invaluable feedback we’ve received from parents and families,” Lightfoot said in a statement announcing the decision.

“As we build out this remote learning model and seek to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, we will continue to support and collaborate with parents and school leaders to create safe, sustainable learning environments for our students.”

Cases are back up to an average above 260 per day over the last week. That case count is higher than the 200 case-per-day limit the city set as the threshold for imposing additional restrictions to promote social distancing, which was based on CDC guidelines.

CPS officials sent parents and guardians an email giving parents until August 7 to decide whether or not they wanted their child to participate in the hybrid learning model or a fully remote model.

The message linked parents to a form that must be returned by August 7, if not returned then the corresponding student would automatically have opted into the hybrid in-person learning model.

“We know that some of our families would prefer not to have their child attend school in-person in the fall, and the district is preparing an option for students to learn at home,” school officials said in the email.

“The parent/guardian of record should have received a text and an email from the district asking about your learning preferences for your child. Please complete the short form that came with that text or email to let us know how your child will be learning in the fall.”

According to the proposed preliminary reopening framework, students would have to attend school two days a week, learn independently at home two days a week, and engage in three hours of real-time virtual classroom instruction one day a week.

Officials had confirmed that parents who chose the remote model will be able to change their preference at the beginning of the second quarter.

“In our proposed hybrid learning model, your child would attend school two days a week, learn independently at home two days a week, and engage in three hours of real-time virtual classroom instruction one day a week,” the email message sent to families reads. “Any family that is not comfortable with sending their child to school has the opportunity to opt out of hybrid learning and instead participate in a full-time learn-at-home model.”

Some had begun to see the message as an automatic win for CPS, and fears grew that many parents might not respond to the message in time, inflating perceived confidence in the proposed plan.

“CPS will tout the numbers of people that ‘Chose’ in-person learning to justify going back in person, even though a huge amount of those numbers will be people who didn’t fill out the form or don’t read their email,” Debbie Koller, a former CPS teacher said.

Despite those initial concerns, CPS officials announced that only 20 percent of Black parents of elementary and high school students intended to have their child participate in in-person learning.

Those concerns began to grow even greater following statements in late July, where Mayor Lightfoot’s public health and school officials announced that they were comfortable with a daily case load double that of their earlier limit, raising the threshold to 400 per day before they would consider closing schools to in-person learning.

“As with everything, we’re going to be guided by the public health guidance and we need to take our time and see where we are in the arc of this virus at that point. But having said that, of course, CPS with a lot of different stakeholders has been working on the reopening opening plan and what that will look like,” Lightfoot said.

“I will let them give the specifics, but we plan to make an announcement relatively soon about what that might look like. But of course, we have contingency plans, if our public health metrics are not where we need them to be in late August.”

Parents, like Ella Small who stays in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, were still attempting to make the decision as to whether or not they would want their children to go.

“I’ve asked people which way to go, but I’m not sure yet,” Small said.

Her concern for her son, Eian, who attends Owen Scholastic Academy was shared by many parents throughout the city.

“I’m probably going to opt for him to be remote,” Small said prior to the announcement. “If it’s still not safe for me to go back to work then I don’t really feel comfortable sending him off to school.”

For his part, Eian who is 9 years old, voiced his own concern for the upcoming school year and asked to not be sent back to school.

The teachers’ union had begun the work toward a potential strike vote, had in-person learning remained an option. The announcement of the potential vote, which will no longer take place, came after Chicago teachers joined a national day of action Monday.

The action demanded that Lightfoot announce 100 percent remote learning, which she did, as well as joined students in their call for removing Chicago police from CPS buildings and redirecting the $33 million contract toward counselors, social workers, school psychologists, nurses and restorative justice personnel to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

“A win for teachers, students and parents,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey tweeted of the news that CPS would begin fully remote learning. “It’s sad that we have to strike or threaten to strike to be heard, but when we fight, we win!”

City officials have claimed the potential strike vote had no bearing in the announcement of fully remote learning. Public school facilities are scheduled to reopen September 8.

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