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CPS students won’t get marked absent for missing class because of tech issues at start of year, schools chief says

“We’re going to make every effort to ensure that they’re not only counted in attendance, but that they have access to their teachers so that they can learn,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson speaks while Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens during a press conference at Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice in Englewood on the first day back to school Tuesday morning, Sept. 8, 2020.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson speaks while Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens during a press conference at Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice in Englewood on the first day back to school Tuesday morning, Sept. 8, 2020.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Students who have computer or internet problems won’t be penalized if they have trouble connecting to a virtual class at the start of the school year, Chicago’s schools chief said Tuesday.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, speaking at a news conference with Mayor Lori Lightfoot on the first day of school, said the district would be lenient as technology woes are sorted out.

“Absolutely not,” Jackson answered when asked if students would be counted absent because of connectivity or technical issues.

“We’re working directly with our families. ... People are working extremely hard to get our kids connected. And we’re going to make every effort to ensure that they’re not only counted in attendance, but that they have access to their teachers so that they can learn.”

The first day didn’t come without headaches for parents and teachers, with many posting on social media about their internet cutting out, or their kids accidentally leaving a video meeting and not being able to get back in. Some others said their first day experience went smoother than expected. Families who are having technical problems can call CPS’ support hotline, open 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, at (773) 417-1060.

Jackson and Lightfoot were also asked about the extensive amount of screen time required by the district’s remote learning plan, which has drawn the ire of some parents and teachers.

“When those teachers are engaging their students, and we saw that over and over again today, they’re going to be engaged,” the mayor said. “If the teachers have a lesson plan, a mission and a path to go, the students are going to be connected and they’re going to learn.”

Jackson said CPS’ remote school plan allows for time away from the screen so students can work independently.

“We know the guidance is grade-level appropriate,” she said. “Obviously we’re going to learn a lot in this environment, but we feel strongly that the guidance that we put out is in alignment with the best practices and the research on screen time.”

Many parents, teachers and even a school board member have said hourslong live online learning each day isn’t ideal for younger kids because research shows they need an adult with them for their online experience to be productive. It also puts a burden on working-class families when parents are asked to shoulder the huge responsibility of continuously checking on their kids when they have their own jobs to worry about.