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Lightfoot hints strongly that in-classroom school year is over

The final decision is up to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but Lightfoot said Thursday: “Certainly, we’d love to be in conversation with the governor and his team about that before any announcement happens.”

Chicago Public Schools students at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side,
Chicago Public Schools students, like these children at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side, may not return to classrooms this academic year.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday hinted strongly that the in-classroom school year is over for Chicago Public School students and their counterparts across the state, but said the final decision is up to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and she would like to be part of that discussion.

Pritzker’s original stay-at-home order was to expire April 7. He already has extended it once — until April 30 — and has hinted for days about a second extension deep into May.

Meanwhile, governors in several other states — and New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio — have ordered their public school buildings closed for the rest of the academic year.

Against that backdrop, Lightfoot was asked about the possibility that Illinois school buildings also would remain closed.

“We have not had that conversation yet with the governor. Although we are hearing that he may make some kind of announcement later this week,” the mayor said.

“Certainly, we’d love to be in conversation with the governor and his team about that before any announcement happens.”

The mayor dropped further hints about an extended remote CPS school year, which already has been disrupted by a teachers strike, when she was asked about possible cutbacks or delays in Chicago Park District summer camps and recreational programs.

“Well, I can’t predict yet. It’s our hope that, particularly once we come out of this, our youth are gonna need to be connected even more so than what happened during the pandemic. Particularly if school is canceled for the rest of the year,” she said.

“We don’t think retrenchment of services is the right approach. The government needs to be acting as an economic stimulus aid in whatever ways that we can. And that includes making sure that we’re providing good, productive programming for our young people across the city. I’m not gonna tell you that we’re not gonna face some challenges. There’s no doubt that we will. But, our first instinct is not gonna be to cut. Our instinct is gonna be…how do we spur the revitalization of the city.”

Later Thursday, Lightfoot made similar comments in a conference call with West Side elected officials.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, came away from the call wondering why the governor was making such an early call when there’s still a possibility of salvaging at least a few weeks of an already-disrupted CPS school year.

“If the arc of this virus has flattened out enough to where children are able to get back to a regular course of life and that includes school sometime later May and June, to give that option would be the best-case scenario. ... I know [teachers] would love to be in front of the children for as long as they possibly could,” Scott said.

“As a school system, we go later than most districts in the state. And there would be opportunity for learning in the classroom in June. ... I don’t want to question the governor or the job that he’s done. He’s done a great job thus far. What I will say is parents, teachers, the district as a whole would love to be able to work with children at the end of the school year, making sure that our children get everything that they can out of the classroom.”

Illinois Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz also said in a press call this week that the suspension of in-person instruction for all schools “most likely” would be extended through the end of the school year, and that an announcement is expected by the end of the week.

CPS is already operating as though the closures aren’t coming to an end anytime soon.

The district is in its first week rolling out an extensive remote learning plan at its 640 schools. Following detailed guidance from state education officials and guidelines from CPS administrators, each school has come up with its own plan to keep teaching kids from home.

And at the start of the week, about one third of the city’s students didn’t have access to a computer to complete their classwork, so the district is aiming to distribute 100,000 laptops and tablets over the next few days and weeks to help bridge that divide. CPS on Thursday also pledged to lend mobile internet hotspots to thousands of homeless students.

On the day CPS announced its remote learning plan, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said the clear indication then was that the in-classroom school year was over. Lightfoot scoffed at the alderman’s claim and said no decision had been made.

Food pantry sets up shop at Wrigley

The mayor made her remarks Thursday outside Wrigley Field after touring the Lakeview Pantry satellite site at the stadium with Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts and his sister and fellow board member Laura Ricketts.

Tom Ricketts was wearing a face mask with blue pinstripes — just like the Cubs’ home uniform.

Last year, Lakeview Pantry distributed 1.7 million meals. Over the last month, demand for food and social services has increased by 140 percent, according to Executive Director Kellie O’Connell.

The Wrigley site allows pantry volunteers to “spread out down the concourse” and maintain the recommended six feet of social distance while preparing boxes of food, O’Connell said. Food boxes are available for pick-up at Wrigley on Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

A die-hard White Sox fan, Lightfoot was asked about baseball — and fans — returning to Wrigley and other stadiums.

“I sure hope so. I sure hope that we get back to a place where we can see Wrigley be playing — with fans. I sure hope that we’re seeing venues and restaurants open up. But we’re a long way away from that at this point,” she said.

“What we haven’t seen is a decline yet [in the number of coronavirus cases]. And until we start seeing those numbers drop significantly, we’re not gonna be in a position to say, `Yes. Wrigley will open up and the other venues across the city.’ No one wants that to happen if we’re not safe.”

Lightfoot said the billionaire family that owns the Cubs have been “great partners” with the city, adding that they understand, as she does, that, “While we value our life as a vibrant city, we’ve got to do it in a way now that recognizes the new normal that we’re all existing in.”