CPS parents have mixed reactions to a part-time return to classroom

“Even if it’s one day, I’m not ready for that. I honestly would like remote learning for at least the first semester, until the numbers go down a little bit,” said one parent who herself had gotten sick with COVID-19.

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Sofia Hatto (right), a rising junior at Jones College Prep, said she misses going to school but isn’t fully confident that it’s safe to attend in-person classes. Her mother, Cassandra, said she appreciates that CPS is making decisions based on science.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

After months of debate and guesses, Chicago Public Schools families learned Friday what school would look like in the fall — and they had mixed reactions.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS officials announced their tentative plan to put most students back in classrooms two days a week with remote learning the other three days. High school juniors and seniors will keep learning at home full-time. All families can opt out of in-person learning for any reason.

Estrella Cedeno, a 36-year-old mother of five and West Rogers Park resident, has three children in CPS. She said she thinks it’s too soon to bring students back to school, and plans to keep her kids at home even if the two-day-a-week format moves forward.

“How do they know [the kids] are not in contact with someone with COVID when they’re not in school?” she asked.

Cedeno actually contracted COVID-19 in March after coming in contact with an emergency room doctor who had the virus. Although none of her children were infected, she called it “the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”

“Even if it’s one day, I’m not ready for that,” she said, of the return to school. “I honestly would like remote learning for at least the first semester, until the numbers go down a little bit.”

Cedeno’s eldest daughter is starting community college in the fall at City Colleges, which plans to offer most classes remotely.

“If it’s not safe for older kids, then why is it safe for little kids who can’t follow directions that well?” said Cedeno.

Cassandra Hatto, whose daughter Sofia is a rising junior at Jones College Prep, said she appreciates that CPS is “following the science” and keeping schools at low capacity. She said she empathizes with decision-makers because it’s difficult to make plans that are ultimately “OK for some, but don’t work for others.”

Hatto said that while she understands the conclusion regarding juniors and seniors staying completely online, she was surprised by it.

She’s able to shape her work around being at home for her daughter, but is concerned about students whose parents are unable to stay at home to help.

Sofia, 16, said that while she agreed it was best to continue online only during the pandemic, her biggest concern in the fall was “not being able to interact with teachers or people in class” and not being able to work together with other students.

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Schaunda Hall, a Chicago Public Schools parent, speaks during a press conference at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop Friday morning, July 17, 2020. CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced reopening plans for public schools in the fall.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Schaunda Hall, a mother of a student at Cather Elementary in East Garfield Park on the West Side, said at a news conference with the mayor that the parent perspective is an important one to consider as CPS ramps up learning in the fall. CPS is holding five public hearings and soliciting input through a survey.

“When I think about goals and dreams for next school year for my little heartbeat, I think about education and safety,” Hall said. “We have to be honest. COVID-19 is real. It’s serious and it’s taking lives. 

“The plan to reopen schools should allow for flexibility. It should be rooted in equality. It needs to be prioritized both with students’ academic and social and emotional needs. It needs to put safety first.”

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