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One in five eligible students returned for in-person learning, CPS data shows

About 1,110 students who had said they would return to classrooms reverted to remote learning ahead of the first day back, and an average of another 1,498 children per day learned remotely even though they had never officially opted out of in-person learning.

Pre-k students listen to their teacher at Edward K. Duke Ellington Elementary School in the South Austin neighborhood, Friday morning, Jan. 22, 2021.
Pre-k students listen to their teacher at Edward K. Duke Ellington Elementary School in the South Austin neighborhood, Friday morning, Jan. 22, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Only 19% of students eligible for the first wave of in-person learning returned to classrooms when Chicago Public Schools reopened this month for the first time during the pandemic, according to new data released by the district, falling well short of city officials’ hopes.

The worrying attendance data comes as CPS tries to forge ahead with a school reopening plan that faces heavy opposition from the Chicago Teachers Union, which this weekend could announce its intentions to disobey orders for 10,000 more teachers and staff to return to in-person work next week.

When families were asked in December to indicate whether they would return to their schools this month, 6,470 out of 16,944 preschoolers and special education students with complex disabilities opted in, CPS said at the time.

When schools opened to those children for the first time this school year on Jan. 11 — and 10 months after the pandemic forced remote learning — only an average of 3,189 students showed up each day from Jan. 11-15. That means just half of those who chose to return actually went back. The students who resumed in-person learning made up 19% of eligible students.

About 1,110 students who had said they would return to classrooms reverted to remote learning ahead of the first day back, and an average of another 1,498 children per day learned remotely even though they had never officially opted out of in-person learning. A daily average of 2,100 students — in virtual and in-person combined — were entirely absent last week.

CPS released the preliminary data Friday evening — nearly two weeks after schools across the city reopened for in-person learning. The data didn’t give raw daily attendance numbers but reported the average number of students who attended in-person learning each day from Jan. 11-15.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement “the district is encouraged” by the number of students who attended in-person classes.

“It is especially encouraging considering it’s an enormous, yet welcomed, transition for many families after ten months of learning from home — especially for our youngest learners, most of whom have never attended school before now.”

CPS also released preliminary attendance data for school-based employees for the last two weeks. It shows a drop in the number of “absences without leave information” from the first day of reopening. The number of teachers and paraprofessionals not appearing for duty fell from 143 on Jan. 11 to 55 by Jan. 22.

CPS also provided an update on COVID-19 self-reported cases over the last two weeks. During the first week, 35 schools reported at least one positive case of COVID-19. The number of schools reporting at least one positive case of COVID-19 grew to 48 in the second week.