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Lightfoot concerned about remote learning impact on youngest CPS students

Nationally, “pre-school, kindergarten, first-grade numbers are down significantly in school districts that have gone to all remote learning. That’s a significant challenge that we’re gonna have to address in very, very thoughtful ways,” Lightfoot said.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson speaks during a press conference on the first day of the semester, which has featured all remote learning so far. The Chicago Teachers Union filed an unfair labor complaint over the district’s plan to start reopening next month.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a press conference at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy of Social Justice in Englewood on the first day of school, Sept. 8.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is “very much concerned” about the long-term impact of teaching Chicago Public Schools’ youngest students remotely and has directed CPS to develop “very specific plans for outreach to bring those children back into” the fold.

The mayor talked openly about her concerns during a virtual conversation with Chicago Community Trust CEO and Brookings Trustee Helene Gayle. The event kicked off a Brookings Metro series highlighting “principles and strategies advancing inclusive economic recovery” from the coronavirus.

Gayle asked the mayor about the “widening skills gap” between Black and white students that “could get even wider” because CPS was forced to switch to remote learning during the stay-at-home shutdown last spring and has started the new school year the same way.

Lightfoot “shares those concerns,” and has “such fond memories of kindergarten, first, second and third grade. … That’s really where, if you get to children, it helps teach them a love of learning” that will “stay with them for their whole lives,” she said.

“Starting out remotely — where they literally can’t touch their teacher, give ‘em a hug, really get socialized with their classmates — I worry a lot about that,” the mayor said.

“Data that we’ve seen nationwide is pre-school, kindergarten, first-grade numbers are down significantly in school districts that have gone to all remote learning. That’s a significant challenge that we’re gonna have to address in very, very thoughtful ways. Chicago Public Schools understand that data and is working on very specific plans for outreach to bring those children back into the public school system. It’s a challenge that we’re seeing school systems face really nationwide.”

CPS spokesperson Emily Bolton did not respond to questions about the “very specific plans” in the works to better engage students in primary grades. City Hall sources said the plan would be unveiled when Lightfoot announces her decision on whether to resume in-classroom learning during the second quarter.

Lightfoot initially announced a “hybrid” learning plan in which students — with the exception of high school seniors — would be divided into “co-horts” and attend in-person classes two days a week.

The mayor abandoned that plan for the first quarter after heavy resistance from the Chicago Teachers Union and parents concerned about student safety. At the time, both Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson said they hoped public health metrics would improve enough to allow CPS to revisit the hybrid plan after Nov. 1.

During Tuesday’s virtual conversation with Brookings, Lightfoot expressed concern that a disappointing response to the 2020 U.S. Census will leave Chicago as the nation’s “fourth or fifth” largest city.

“One of my big priorities as mayor is to actually grow our population. We’ve seen, year after year for the last five to six years, that Chicago’s population shrunk,” Lightfoot said.

“And I fear that, after the next census is complete — whenever that’s complete — that we’re not gonna be the third-largest city in the country” but would, instead, “be four or five.”

On a more hopeful note, the mayor said she’s optimistic Congress will approve another round of stimulus funding, including replacement revenue for cities and states, before recessing until after the election.

“It may not be as ambitious as the package that was passed by the House earlier this summer. But cities and towns are dying for resources. They have cut their personnel to the bone. They have cut services to the bone. And without some additional help — and it really can only come from the federal government — we have another set of extraordinarily painful choices that we’re gonna have to make,” she said.

“I’m hoping that the cries of all of us are actually gonna resonate. ... I don’t think we need to make the case anymore. It’s just a question, at this point, of political will.”

The mayor also disclosed she is “in the process of negotiating four more ‘last-mile warehouses’ with Amazon” and that city officials would “be completing one of those next week.”

Those four warehouses are in addition to the one in the Far South Side’s Pullman neighborhood, a mayoral spokesperson said. Amazon could not be reached for comment.

The $60 million Pullman warehouse is delivering a 200-job, 150,000-square foot prize to a site at 104th and Woodlawn once owned by Ryerson Steel. It’s expected to open in time for Christmas.

Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft refused to comment on the company’s “future roadmap,” saying only that Amazon is “excited about continued growth and investment” in Illinois, where it already has 10 “delivery stations.”