By Hannah Leone Chicago Tribune
High school families in Chicago Public Schools have until March 19 to say yes or no to in-person learning, but they still don’t know exactly what those options mean or when their students might finally get the chance to return after a year of remote instruction.
With the last wave of elementary students having returned March 8, a joint CPS and Chicago Teachers Union committee began meeting this month to work out a high school reopening plan. District communications state that this is the final window for all students who have not yet returned to opt in for the remainder of the school year.ADVERTISING
Parents seeking answers at a CPS virtual town hall Wednesday were not entirely mollified. Many remain frustrated by the district’s position of allowing in-person students to switch to remote learning at any time, but denying the same flexibility to students who choose the learn-from-home option. Prior waves saw an inflated number of opt-in responses from families who wanted to preserve that option but ultimately backed out by the time schools opened their doors.
Moderators acknowledged seeing more than 500 questions and promised an FAQ soon to address those they didn’t get to. Some people who registered for the town hall received an incorrect link and couldn’t get access. The district apologized, posted the recording on YouTube and scheduled another session Wednesday.
The district, which is expecting about $1.8 billion from the latest federal pandemic relief package, has also said it’s evaluating newIllinois State Board of Education guidance that shortens the social distancing rule within schools to 3 feet, and will continue to “engage” its joint health committee with the Chicago Teachers Union. The CTU reiterated its expectation that 6 feet be maintained.
At the town hall, topics ranged from imitation hand sanitizer to public transportation to investments in health and safety measures.
Here are some of the questions and answers, edited for clarity and length:
How can parents make an informed decision about having their children return if they don’t know their school’s plan?
Deputy Chief of High Schools Erick Pruitt: Speaking as a parent I think, one, identifying what the joint task force comes together and identifies as a model for reopening for our schools. … The interest I believe on both sides is that schools have the flexibility, and we’re responsive to the number of students and families that choose in-person learning. I also think that it’s a personal decision, with regards to the current health conditions of the people in your household and if the people in your household have been also vaccinated and are adhering to social distancing and face mask requirements.
P.J. Karafiol, principal of Lake View High School: There isn’t one plan just because there are so many variables. When I talk about planning for reentry, we’re talking about what would happen if we let 150 kids come in? What would happen if we let 300 kids come in? Would it be possible to let 700 kids come in? So as we’re thinking about so many different possibilities all the time, our plan looks not like a straight line but almost like an octopus because it branches out in so many ways.
Armando Rodriguez, principal of Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy: It’s very important for parents to know that we are pretty much an open-door policy, so they can come any time. … Also I think it’s kind of like a moving document, you know, it’s not set in stone … it depends on how many students are we getting into the building.
Pruitt: The information that we’re gathering from the opt-in survey allows us to identify, as we consider the different reopening models: Are we bringing all students back? Will it be a hybrid model? … The data that we’ll use will inform our discussions with CTU and help strengthen the models that come out of our talks with the CTU.
Can students expect their schedules to stay the same when high schools reopen?
Pruitt: One of our interests in the joint task force with CTU is that our students maintain their schedules as closely as possible, so we’re currently discussing what student movement looks like and what the different models of reopening potentially look like at our schools.
If the majority of students chose in-person classes, does my child have a guaranteed slot?
Pruitt: As we consider what models to offer our families … school size, the number of kids that opt in are all considerations for how we support our campuses.Are we looking at models of students to come back five days a week or four days a week? We are looking at models that are similar to our elementary model where we have students in shifts. With a large school depending upon how many students elect to come back for in-person learning, we may be able to put those number of students in two different groups, whereby allowing them to come to school at least twice a week. … These are some of the considerations that are being explored in the joint task force.
Some students commute to school on public transportation. Knowing CPS can’t control mitigation measures on the CTA, for example, how are you planning around that?
CPS Chief Health Officer Dr. Kenneth Fox: You control the things you can control. All the mitigation measures, all the layers of protection that we put in place in schools and that we’ve enforced there and that people ought to be following at home, ought to be followed on public transportation as well. … It is a good question, and it will be a challenge because frankly, people will have to find their way to school, there is no other way around it.
Karafiol: Educating our students is the first priority and helping them understand not just that this is a rule, but why it’s a rule and why social distancing is important. … We are in communication with all of our local stakeholders, including the CTA about things like buses. If you live up near Lake View, you know that during the regular school year, the No. 9 and No. 40 buses are kind of like “big yellow buses” in the morning, they bring all of our students in. So I’ve been in conversations with folks over at the CTA about capacity, again, for different scenarios so they know how many buses to run, and they’ve been very proactive.
Will students keep their teachers regardless of whether they attend in person or virtually?
Pruitt: Our interest is to have all of our students maintain the integrity of their current schedules, and this is a discussion point in the joint task force with the CTU. So both sides recognize the importance of our students continuing with their teachers, and we’re working to figure out what that could potentially look like for all of our students.
What happens if a student fails the daily health screener or doesn’t answer honestly?
Fox: This is truly a situation where we’re all in this together and we all rely on each other to protect each other, and I wouldn’t want somebody lying to me, so I wouldn’t do that do somebody else. We want people to take this seriously, it’s incredibly important, it’s key to the success of this endeavor, and we expect to take it seriously and to answer honestly. It’s really just to protect themselves and others. However, the screener is not the only mitigation measure. There are many layers of protection.
Let’s say somebody does make it into the school; they falsified their screener and shouldn’t be there. … I would say that other measures are in place, even if a person has the virus. … If you wear cloth face coverings, which are mandated in the school, and you maintain distance, you’re washing hands and the space is clean and all the other kinds of protections, those are available to us to, and what we know is that they work and that’s why they’re there. So we don’t rely on just one measure, but it is incredibly important that people be honest and that if you’re sick you stay home, if you fail the screener then you don’t go to school or to work.
Any parting words as people navigate this very personal decision that they’re making for their family?
CPS Chief Facilities Officer Clarence Carson: The plans I help us administer are things that I would want to keep my family safe. I have a 9-year-old daughter that is in an elementary school and has been there since they reopened. She goes to class, hybrid learning, fully enjoys it. … The students believe it’s worth it. They want to take whatever precautions they can to keep themselves safe and their friends safe, and the teachers do the same. We care about what we’re doing in the buildings, and we truly are internalizing what it takes to make sure it’s successful and safe for everyone to return.
Fox: I’ve been a pediatrician for over three decades. I care about the health of the children and the health of the staff in the school. We can do this. People all over the world have done it, and we can do it too. We want our kids back, we want them back safely and we use the layers of protection to make sure that they’re safe when they’re there and that we’re ready.
Pruitt: As a participant in the joint task force, I can say that there’s a common interest on both sides to getting students and staff back in school safely and in compliance with CDC and ISBE guidance. We also have a common interest in providing a flexible return plan that takes into account school size, number of students that opt in, number of staff available and then also considers programming at each of our schools. There’s also a common interest with regards to prioritizing, supporting our groups of students that have been most impacted by remote learning in this pandemic, and so with that, I believe we are making progress and our interest is not rushing to get students back into in-person learning but presenting a plan for our parents and for our students that meets all of their needs.
Original article: chicagotribune.com