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Thousands of CPS students still haven’t attended virtual classes this fall, officials say

CPS employees are calling families, handing out flyers and even knocking on doors to help get kids back in classes.

Assistant Principal Matthew Swanson walks inside Whitney M. Young Magnet High School on the first day back to school Tuesday morning, Sept. 8, 2020.
Assistant Principal Matthew Swanson walks inside Whitney M. Young Magnet High School on the first day back to school Tuesday morning, Sept. 8, 2020.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials are still working to get thousands of students into online classes two weeks into the school year, a sign that obstacles to learning still exist for some and that many families may have transferred out of the district this fall.

The school system’s chief education officer, LaTanya McDade, said at Wednesday’s monthly Board of Education meeting that as many as 6,900 children were still missing from virtual classes in the 300,000-student district at the end of last week.

McDade said not all those students who haven’t attended classes have been “lost” and not contacted.

“Some of those students have transferred outside of the district or transferred to charter as well,” McDade said.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said later Wednesday the number of students marked “did not arrive” was actually 2,680 last Friday, and said the figure was typical and not due to the pandemic.

“This is not a phenomenon of remote learning circumstances; every year there is wide variation between the first and 20th day of school, which is why CPS and other large urban districts calculate final enrollment after students have been in school for a couple of weeks,” Bolton said in an emailed statement.

Board President Miguel del Valle asked McDade how the district would connect with those students who still hadn’t been reached. Del Valle said it would be important to identify the exact reasons why students haven’t been reached.

McDade said CPS central office employees, bus aides and other workers have been calling families every day to find out where their children are, and what resources they need to get back in school. Safe Passage Workers have handed out almost 60,000 flyers in various communities, and security guards have been trained and repurposed for home visits to check on families if they can’t be reached by phone.

McDade said CPS’ decision to back off a policy that in typical years would almost immediately drop students who didn’t show up on the first day of school. Students classified as “Did Not Attend” were instead dropped from enrollment two weeks into this school year.

Had the original policy been left intact, McDade said about 49,000 students might have been dropped from CPS for not attending classes that first day.

CPS released data last week that showed about four of every five students logged on for the first week of school, a markedly higher rate than in the spring despite first-day attendance still dipping from previous years.

In all, 84.2% of registered students attended remote classes the first day of school, down from an average first-day attendance of 94.3% the previous four years. Attendance district-wide rose the second day of school and then reached 90.2% by the third day.