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CPS students unlikely to return to schools this year, alderman says after mayoral briefing

“We have no expectation of them going back,” Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) told the Sun-Times after a conference call with Lori Lightfoot. “I don’t know why they’d have to go back if they’re all learning at home.”

A bus driver shortage has left some CPS students without transportation to get to school.
CPS students won’t be going back to schools the rest of the year, one alderman concluded after being briefed Monday on the remote-learning plan being unveiled by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school officials.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday outlined a plan for “remote learning” — including the distribution of lap-top computers to needy students — leaving one aldermen to conclude that Chicago Public Schools students have attended their last day of in-person classes this academic year.

“They’re doing remote learning for the rest of the year . . . We have no expectation of them going back,” Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) told the Sun-Times after a conference call with the mayor.

Pressed on whether Lightfoot said students would not return to school buildings for the rest of the year, Lopez said, “I don’t know if that was the exact words. But that’s the implication — that the rest of the school year will be remote learning. I don’t know why they’d have to go back if they’re all learning at home.”

Told that Lopez came away from the conference call believing in-person school was over for the year, Lightfoot said, “I can’t imagine why that would be so. We have no reason to believe that that’s the case. And obviously, what happens with the schools being physically opened is determined at the state level — not at the local level. And we certainly haven’t received any guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education one way or the other.”

Schools CEO Janice Jackson said what’s important for CPS families to know is that the school system “has a plan” for the remainder of the school year, regardless of what happens.

“COVID is extremely unpredictable. Things have changed rapidly . . . I, along with everybody else in this country, hope that we don’t have to use a plan longer than we anticipate. But we want the families in our communities to know that we are prepared, should that occur,” Jackson said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has closed all public and private schools statewide through April 7. Lightfoot has extended the closing for CPS schools through April 20.

But Lopez said Monday’s conference call with the mayor made it clear that a school year already shortened by a teachers strike now faces major challenges.

The mayor’s remote learning plan calls for laptop computers to be distributed to students, based on need, according to a recent survey of principals. CPS teachers will provide assistance to students for four hours each day.

“We already have students who are two or three weeks behind now who are struggling already, particularly in neighborhoods on the South and West side. They’ve gotten no instruction. We’re going to give them a laptop that a majority of them may not be able to use and hope for them to be able to continue to educate themselves with or without their parents’ assistance. With or without a laptop that works,” Lopez said.

“If the laptop doesn’t work or they don’t get one, they’ll be given printed materials of a lesser rigor to keep them occupied until the end of the year. That is extremely worrisome to me because that will put my disadvantaged students at an even greater learning disadvantage almost guaranteeing that they will be collectively one full year behind the rest of the city when COVID-19 is no more.”

Lopez said both he and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, asked the mayor what she intended to do for those students who do not have access to the internet at home.

“The mayor’s response was, we’re going to work with carriers to see what we can do to try and get them to provide internet to families who don’t have that while not asking them to shoulder the financial burden,” Lopez said.

Both state and local officials have acknowledged Illinois faces extended closures as several other states have already called off the rest of their school year.

Illinois education officials on Friday directed districts statewide to implement concrete remote learning plans for all schools starting Tuesday, and offered comprehensive guidelines for how to do so.

The new recommendations from the state were the most comprehensive to date and indicated a recognition that proper remote learning “through whatever means possible” will be necessary.

Contributing: Nader Issa