1 in 3 Chicago Public Schools students start remote learning without computers

Of the 100,000 computers and tablets CPS officials said would be distributed for kids to use at home, 11,000 were handed out by Monday.

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Patricia Landeros, a 4th grade teacher at Dawes Elementary, has been teaching her students remotely since CPS closed its buildings.

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Almost a third of Chicago Public Schools students didn’t have acomputer or tablet on Monday when the district’s 640 schools began state-mandated extensive remote learning plans.

Efforts to close that divide have been underway and progress is expected in the coming days and weeks as the third-largest public school district in the country continues its attempt to teach 355,000 students from home.

Of the 100,000 computers and tablets CPS officials said would be distributed for kids to use at home, 11,000 were handed out by Monday. That meant, by CPS’ own estimates, about 104,000 children didn’t have devices at the start of this week.

CPS did not expect to have all those laptops distributed by Monday, the first day of classes after spring break. At least 400 CPS schools are planning to distribute a combined 60,000 devices by the end of this week, officials said.

Schools chief Janice Jackson and CPS chief education officer LaTanya McDade acknowledged Monday that “we won’t be the first to say that this has been a difficult school year.”

“If there’s one word we want everyone to lock in on in the coming days, it’s engagement,” Jackson and McDade wrote in a letter to CPS families. “We should think about how we can engage with and check in on each other to ensure everyone in our CPS family feels supported.”

But so many kids still left without computer access a month after Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered schools closed shows how far the district has to go, said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

“Bottom line, the first day of remote learning is no different than any other — another day of the status quo for low-income people of color in our city,” Davis Gates said. She added that computer and internet access should always be guaranteed, and the district should provide families more help to “navigate this traumatic and unprecedented period in time.”

Back to class

Following extensive guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and CPS officials, every school in the district was expected to come up with and implement its own unique remote learning plan by Monday with both digital and non-digital options.

While that has varied at schools across the city, most schools have developed a set schedule for their students with digital lesson plans that have largely been detailed and concrete. Offline plans have mostly relied on CPS-provided homework packets.

The plan at Robinson Elementary in the South Side Oakland neighborhood, for example, involves daily virtual lessons in the morning and teacher “office hours” in the afternoon at every grade level. Homework packets are available for pick-up at the school, and parents without internet access can text their questions during office hours.

At Solorio Academy High School in Gage Park on the Southwest Side, every class and every subject — ranging from math to English to computer science and even physical education — has a schedule involving online lessons.

Alcott High School in North Center is taking it week by week, only posting the first week’s schedule so far. But the school has mostly followed typical lesson plans, including topics students will study each day plus additional material to reinforce lessons that can be completed for extra credit.

Even for families who have technology available to them, remote learning hasn’t gone off without a hitch. Some schools reported problems with hacked video streams. Others had to cancel classes because teachers couldn’t get the technology to work.

Some schools sent out privacy warnings after incidents Monday reminding families that “the district is prohibiting any outside visitors from participating or observing in virtual remote learning. Virtual remote learning sessions are for students only. Parents, family members, etc. should not participate in the sessions.”

CPS said families having technical problems can call its IT Parent Tech Support Hotline at(773) 417-1060from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

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