LOGAN SQUARE — It was a quiet Monday morning at Mozart Elementary School in Logan Square as very few parents dropped off their children for the first day of Chicago Public School’s in-person learning after nearly eight months of remote classes.
Parents of a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten student who dropped him off just before class began at 8 a.m. said it was a difficult decision to send their son back to school. But ultimately, they feel he will learn better this way.
“The main classes will help him much more than we can,” his father said in Spanish, who did not wish to be named. “We have a lot of fear about the virus and the pandemic but… We have confidence in the teachers and the other parents who are sending their kids in good health back to school.”
The parents said their son has missed interacting with other classmates and remote learning has been frustrating for him, especially having to use a computer all day inside. They hope the teachers can give him better instruction and are putting faith in them to keep their son safe.
“We pray in God that everything is going to be OK,” the father said, who drives for Uber. “It will be better for us so we can work and leave the house. I will have more time to work now.”
The boy is one of only nine children returning to Mozart on Monday, according to CPS survey data from December. Out of the dual language school’s 28 pre-K students, 19 plan to continue learning remotely.
Citywide, Monday’s reopening is small: Only 6,000 students in pre-kindergarten and special education cluster programs are expected to return. A much larger reopening is slated for Feb. 1, when 70,000 students are scheduled to return to classrooms.
Of Mozart’s 482 K-8 students, 285 will continue to learn remotely, while 133 will return to school in February.
The reopening plan has been met with controversy and pushback from the Chicago Teachers Union, local school councils, parents and teachers who feel it’s too soon and not yet safe to resume in-person learning.
But Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS Chief Janice Jackson have insisted schools are safe and the risk of coronavirus transmission from in-person learning is low. They also have said it is important to reopen so families have flexibility in deciding which type of learning works best for them.
But some Mozart parents and teachers who had an online meeting about reopening last week said it does not make sense to open schools with the virus is still surging in Chicago. The city’s positivity rate was 10.3 percent Monday, up from last week. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests.
“The vaccine should be for everyone. Until then, I’m not sending my kid to school,” parent Araceli Cuellar said in Spanish during a virtual local school council meeting last week with more than 100 attendees. “I’m OK doing the classes remotely and I see how [my son] is advancing. There is no need to return to expose the kids more.”
Pre-K teaching assistant and parent Mara Ayala still has not decided if she will go back to in-person teaching and did not return Monday. She plans to keep her 7-year-old son, who also attends Mozart, home to learn remotely, but that has forced her to make a difficult decision on how she will monitor his education from afar.
The primary teacher who works alongside her was granted permission to work from home, but Ayala’s application was denied.
She said she is trying to reapply for remote accommodation, though she said the process is complicated and she doesn’t have high hopes of being approved. She said other Mozart teachers and staff have been supportive of those who don’t feel safe going, but she still feels stuck.
“I don’t want to be on the bad side but it’s still complicated,” Ayala said. “My heart says not to go. I don’t want to send [my son] to childcare because of the [the pandemic]. I am terrified of having to choose between work and life.”
At last week’s meeting, many parents said their entire families contracted the virus and they don’t want to risk catching it again. They worry their children could bring it home even if they don’t show symptoms. Although some said remote learning was a difficult adjustment, parents like Cuellar said they’re getting better at it.
Parent Pamela Phelps, whose son is autistic, said the CPS plan puts extra weight on special education teachers and she worries her son won’t receive the therapy he needs at school. She said the district plan “feels like a way to pass on responsibility they are not taking.”
“This is a fantasy that we can prevent our kids from getting sick,” Phelps said. “CPS should be smarter than this. We are following our federal government, who has been woefully pathetic in its response [to the pandemic].”
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