CHICAGO — Chicago is allowing restaurants, bars, salons and gyms to welcome back more patrons later this week — but it’s too soon to reopen Chicago Public Schools, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.
The mayor said an announcement on CPS could come “relatively soon,” but noted officials aren’t ready yet to allow students back in classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Students have been remote learning since the Sept. 8 start of the school year. The second quarter begins Nov. 9, and there had been some early talk about targeting that date for a return.
But Lightfoot said no decision has been made.
“We’re not there yet, and we have to make these decisions in the next few weeks,” Lightfoot said. “Look, as a parent myself with a school aged child, talking to parents all across the city … there’s a lot of anxiety on the part of parents. Most parents don’t sign up for effectively home schooling. For those parents who are working parents it’s really difficult on them.”
But although Lightfoot and Dept. of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady touted Chicago’s sustained success over the past month in suppressing the spread of coronavirus, it’s not enough success to return children and teachers to schools.
“I hope that we will be able to continue to see the progress that was outlined here today, but there’s also a lot of considerations,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve got to think about the workforce, of course. We’ve got to think about our principals, our teachers, our staff. Coming back to work, what does that mean for them? What does it mean for members of that school community who are over 60, who have underlying conditions?
“… We have to see more progress in order for us to have a conversation about in person learning,” the mayor said. “We’re not there yet.”
Over the summer, CPS initially announced a hybrid model where most kids would spend at least a few days in school. But that plan was scrapped at the beginning of August after weeks of pushback from teachers, parents and community members, who worried the district’s plan would expose children, families and faculty to coronavirus.
CPS said it made the decision amid an uptick in cases and based on feedback from parents, many of whom said they don’t feel ready to send their children back to school.
Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union said Monday they do not support returning to in-person learning in November unless “public health conditions meet previously outlined criteria.”
Even then, union leaders say they won’t support such a move unless CPS makes “significant investments in safety” and commits to doing widespread testing and contact tracing and improving schools’ poor ventilation systems.
“We share the district’s concern about maintaining student enrollment,” CTU president Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. “But a return to in-person learning before it can be done safely, along with timing that will coincide with a potential fall surge in COVID-19 infections currently predicted by public health experts, could be catastrophic for Chicago and its most vulnerable populations.
“If schools become additional vectors for an anticipated fall-winter COVID-19 spike, the damage to CPS and negative impact on enrollment could be far worse than any experienced during remote learning.”
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