CPS rethinking plan to keep high school juniors and seniors at home this fall

District officials on Wednesday at the Board of Education’s monthly meeting previewed their health plan for the fall in greater detail than they had when it was released last week.

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CPS CEO Janice Jackson speaks at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

CPS

Chicago Public Schools is considering backing off a proposal to keep high school juniors and seniors in full-time remote learning in the fall as the rest of the district moves to partial in-classroom instruction.

Last week, CPS announced a “preliminary framework” that called on most students to return to school two days a week, but that had 11th and 12th graders starting the fall with online classes only.

But this week, schools chief Janice Jackson said parents should “stay tuned” on that component of the plan.

“We thought that that was the best approach, it was our best thinking on that day, but given the overwhelming response that I’ve been hearing from parents of 11th and 12th graders, that is something that we’re going to go back and look at,” Jackson said during a live-streamed conversation with Alison Arwady, the city health commissioner.

Arwady said officials would rethink reopening schools at all if Chicago reaches 400 new cases per day. Chicago hasn’t had a daily case count over 400 since May, but health officials have warned the city could be headed back in that direction if precautions aren’t taken. Chicago’s rolling 7-day average is around 230 cases.

Jackson provided further details on the fall plan Wednesday at the Board of Education’s monthly meeting, the first held in-person since February. Five board members attended while two called in by phone.

Jackson said any parents who take the district’s offer of opting their children out of in-person learning will have to commit to that decision for 10 weeks, or a quarter at a time,to allow for easier planning of the 15-student “pods” that will be used. The district has allowed families to make that choice for any reason at any point in the school year.

Any student who returns to in-person learning will have to quarantine for 14-days before going back to school, Jackson said, although kids who start in the pods at the beginning of the year won’t be required to quarantine.

CPS’ chief health officer, Kenneth Fox, said the district would work with the Chicago Department of Public Health to enact contact tracing for positive cases at schools. But the district won’t offer COVID-19 testing, leaving the existing testing locations in the city to handle those needs.

Students and staff will be required to upload daily health checks before going to school, or one will be administered at the door. Fox said students and staff who are sick should stay home.

“As the public health situation in Chicago evolves, so will our plan,” Fox told the school board. “Should COVID cases be rising quickly, and the health of our students is threatened, we will pivot immediately to a full at-home learning model.”

If someone in one of the pods comes down with the virus, that group would be sent home to quarantine, but the whole school wouldn’t necessarily close unless the virus spread to another pod.

The district is planning to provide three reusable cloth masks to every student and staff member in the city, and is pledging to also send disposable masks to every school.

Children will enter schools through assigned doors, and once inside will use assigned bathrooms. Lunch will be eaten in classrooms, or in some cases when social distancing is possible, in the cafeteria.

“The one thing that we do know is that COVID will be with us for a while and that we have a responsibility to figure out how to do school in this environment,” Jackson said.

Outside CPS headquarters, where the meeting was held, the Chicago Teachers Union hosted a protest continuing its call for full remote learning to start the school year because of health concerns. Teachers said they were worried their students and their own families could get sick if CPS proceeds with its partial reopening plan.

“I can’t accept a plan that will kill my kids,” read a sign held by Ariam Abraham, an English teacher at Simeon Career Academy High School, who attended a union press conference at CICS ChicagoQuest High School at 1443 N. Ogden, before a caravan of teachers headed to CPS headquarters.

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Ariam Abraham, an English teacher at Simeon Career Academy High School on the South Side, listens during a press conference outside CICS ChicagoQuest High School, at 1443 N. Ogden Ave., as Chicago Teachers Union members demand that Chicago Public Schools opens virtually in the fall, Wednesday morning, July 22, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

After reviewing remote learning engagement in the spring and hearing concerns through a survey, CPS said it’s planning adjustments for the fall.

The entire district will be moved onto Google platforms such as Google Classroom and Google Meet, which allows officials to measure student engagement more universally. Attendance will be tracked throughthe Aspen system.

Principals will also be asked to increase their monitoring of teachers and set “clear expectations for teacher engagement during remote learning,” CPS said. In the spring, about one in five elementary teachers and almost half of high school teachers logged onto a Google platform fewer than three days a week, the district said.

The district is promising to offer teachers professional development for virtual learning tools, as they’ll be asked to provide live virtual instruction more frequently. Guidance will also be sent out about how to respond to students who refuse to wear masks or those who disrupt online classes.

CPS is also looking to implement social and emotional learning support for students to manage stress and anxiety.

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Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and their supporters rally outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop to demand that schools open virtually in the fall, Wednesday morning, July 22, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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