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CPS’ reopening plan to be subject of City Council hearing on same day students go back

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), chairman of the Education Committee, said he called the hearing hoping that “questions, concerns and misconceptions” about Monday’s reopening can be “put to rest.”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks during a press conference at the Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters in the Loop, Tuesday morning, Jan. 5, 2021. J
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks during a press conference at the Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters in the Loop, Tuesday morning, Jan. 5, 2021. J
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The City Council’s Education Committee will hold a hearing Monday to question schools and health officials a week after nearly three-quarters of Chicago aldermen said they were “deeply concerned” with the city’s school reopening plan,

The virtual hearing is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. the same day the first Chicago Public Schools students return to classrooms after schools closed 10 months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. The plan to reopen classrooms as the virus still rages through the city at levels comparable to the spring has concerned families and teachers who don’t trust schools will be safe.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), chairman of the Education Committee, said he called the hearing hoping that “questions, concerns and misconceptions” that aldermen and their constituents have about Monday’s reopening can be “put to rest.” Many of those concerns were articulated in the letter co-signed by 36 aldermen.

“I don’t know if it gets people closer to wanting to come in,” Scott said. “But I do know that the information needs to get out and it has not been getting out in the manner in which CPS wants it and the way that the aldermen want.”

Scott said the hearing “is a way to have everybody in the same [virtual] room to kind of talk about these issues. People will be able to see and hear what that plan is. Misstatements about these plans can be dispelled. If that makes people feel a little bit more comfortable, that’s great. If … folks don’t feel comfortable, that’s every CPS’ family and teacher’s right to feel that way.”

Scott acknowledged that he and his wife have decided that their two youngest children, who have special needs, will not return to school on Monday and will continue to learn remotely, as they have throughout the pandemic. One of his children, he said, “has a problem with personal space.”

“I don’t want to put any other child at risk,” Scott said. “… He’ll be fine [either way]. But I don’t feel comfortable with him with other children.”

Since the two kids go to the same school, he won’t send his other child, either.

“It doesn’t make sense to send one and not the other,” the chairman said.

He would like to send his teenager back, but can’t since high schools will remain closed.

“If high schools were open, she would definitely go back,” he said.

Scott did not co-sign the letter to the mayor that CPS CEO Janice Jackson has called “purely political” and hypocritical because some aldermen have children in private schools, many of which have remained open.

He insisted that his decision not to sign the letter was not because he was pressured by the mayor’s office as Lightfoot’s handpicked Education Committee chairman. It’s simply because his own questions about the reopening plan have been addressed during countless meetings that CPS officials have had in recent weeks with various City Council caucuses, he said.

“No one asked me not to sign” the letter, Scott said.

Watch the City Council hearing at 10 a.m. Monday at chicityclerk.com.