CHICAGO — Most Chicago students will head back to class for at least two days a week in the fall under a CPS plan released Friday.
Officials said the hybrid model will allow kids to get high-quality, in-person learning, as well as the other benefits school allows, like ensuring kids get nutritious meals and mental health care.
But the district said the health and safety of students amid the pandemic is its chief concern, so it’ll collect feedback from students, faculty and other community members before finalizing its plan.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said the city has its coronavirus outbreak fairly under control, which is why she supports the hybrid model.
“Right now, as of July 17, our local outbreak remains broadly in control in Chicago,” Arwady said. “And in that context, CDPH does support a hybrid framework that includes an in-person classroom learning option, with all of the many safeguards proposed.”
She won’t hesitate to recommend school closures again if cases spike, however.
“Please know that 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 … we would not hesitate to make that difficult recommendation,” Arwady said. “But right now, for so many reasons, we are pleased to be talking about school this fall.”
Chicago Public Schools, which serve about 355,000 students, have been closed since March 17 as part of efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus.
What School Will Look Like
The plan, which Mayor Lori Lightfoot said is a preliminary outline, calls for most students to learn at home for two consecutive days, be at school for two consecutive days and have one day of real-time virtual classes with their teacher.
The virtual classes would be held Wednesdays, allowing CPS staff time to do deep cleans of schools in between students’ in-school learning days.
Students from kindergarten through their sophomore year of high school will learn under the hybrid model, but juniors and seniors will learn completely at home under CPS’ plan. Some students, like preschoolers and those with special needs, will be in class full-time.
School will have staggered start times to minimize contact between students.
When in school, kids will be put in groups of 15 students who they’ll share classes and a group of teachers with throughout the year. They’ll be in the same classroom all day, and only their group will use that room. Students will be able to have bathroom breaks, but they’ll only use other school facilities — like the cafeteria or gyms — on a limited basis.
When students enter and leave school, it’ll be at designated times and at designated doors with their group, according to the plan.
How They’ll Clean And Sanitize
Students and staff will wear masks all day, and teachers will have to wash their hands in designated bathrooms. Students and staff will also have to sanitize their hands when entering or traveling inside a school building.
All students and staff will also have to undergo daily temperature checks and complete an online symptom screener.
The district plans to step up cleaning efforts by hiring 400 custodians. Parts of buildings that see a lot of use, like bathrooms, will be cleaned and disinfected multiples times per day under the plan.
The district is also buying more than 1.2 million reusable masks for students and staff, 40,000 containers of disinfect wipes for classrooms and 42,000 hand sanitizer dispensers, among other supplies.
What Happens If There’s An Outbreak
Should one student in a group become sick with coronavirus, all of the people in that group will have to quarantine for 14 days, Arwady said.
The district would also do “extensive cleaning” of facilities used by that group, Arwady said.
If there were multiple cases in a group, or cases spread across multiple groups, the district would have to decide what to do, Arwady said.
But because students should only come in contact with members of their group, it’s possible only members of those groups would be quarantined rather than everyone at the affected school, according to the district’s plan.
Should the overall city’s coronavirus outbreak worsen, the district will have plans for returning all children to remote learning.
Officials are asking for parents and teachers to weigh in on the plan.
Families, students and staff can submit feedback through an online survey. The survey is open until July 31.
The district will hold five virtual meetings to provide feedback, as well. Those who wish to participate must register in advance. Three of the meetings will be in English and two in Spanish.
• 9-10:30 a.m. July 27
• 4-5:30 p.m. July 28
• 9-10:30 a.m. July 29
• 4-5:30 p.m. July 30
• 9-10:30 a.m. July 31
Teachers Union Concerns
Chicago’s teachers union called Wednesday for an all-remote start to the school year, saying the district’s Black and Latino students — who make up the majority of enrollment — are most likely to be impacted if the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
A large percentage of unionized educators are at increased risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions, the union said. Half of CTU’s membership, it said, live in the Chicago ZIP codes with the highest rates of coronavirus.
CPS chief Janice Jackson said the district will accommodate staff who have underlying health conditions that make it unsafe to provide in-person instruction.
And the district’s plan recommends students with underlying medical conditions talk to their doctor before attending school in-person.
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