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The case for reopening schools in the Chicago area just grew stronger

A Sun-Times analysis of data from right here in Illinois bolsters the argument that children can go back to the classroom even during a pandemic.

One of 16 coronavirus outbreaks tied to Illinois schools this fall was at Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi Academy in West Rogers Park
One of 16 coronavirus outbreaks tied to Illinois schools this fall was at Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi Academy in West Rogers Park
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The evidence continues to pile up that in-person schooling can be done safely, even during a resurgent pandemic.

This time the evidence comes from right here in Illinois, where just 16 schools in the past month have experienced an outbreak of COVID-19, according to an analysis of state data by Sun-Times Education Reporter Nader Issa.

It’s hard to get a more direct endorsement of in-person teaching, which Chicago Public Schools plans to resume in January, than this:

“It’s safe to keep schools open,” said Dr. Daniel Johnson, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The finding means that only a small fraction of public and private schools in Illinois have had coronavirus outbreaks — defined as five confirmed infections in people from different households — that could be traced back to actual school buildings. Two of the 16 schools were in Chicago.

The Illinois findings are bolstered by the experience of countries in Europe, where schools are considered essential and have remained open even as the virus began surging again this fall. Outbreaks in European schools have been rare, and public health experts there say schools likely played only a limited role in sparking transmission of the virus.

The key is mitigation, as infectious disease experts repeatedly have stressed. That means following strict protocols, such as masks, social distancing, adequate classroom ventilation and the extra cleaning of buildings.

CPS plans to resume in-person learning for preschoolers and some special needs students in January, and for kindergarten through eighth grade students in February under a hybrid model. Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, as well, plans to resume hybrid learning in January.

For the sake of children’s education and social development, the sooner a safe reopening can happen, the better.

Think, as well, of bus drivers, store clerks, firefighters and other essential workers who are also parents. They can’t work from home so as to oversee their child’s remote learning. Child care is expensive. Grandparents may not be available.

Reopening schools is important for these parents needs.

Some families will surely balk at sending their children back to the classroom. They may opt to continue with online learning, which is their right. We hope that CPS will go the extra mile to communicate its safety plan to all parents and allay their fears, especially among parents in Black and Latino communities hit hardest by COVID-19.

And between now and January, we hope to see a breakthrough in the stalemate between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union with respect to reopening schools.

The best education for thousands of Chicago schoolchildren depends on it.

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