Less than half of CPS students — including 1 in 3 high schoolers — choose 4th quarter in-person learning

This is the last chance for students to attend in-person schooling this year.

SHARE Less than half of CPS students — including 1 in 3 high schoolers — choose 4th quarter in-person learning

Students attend a class at Jordan Community Elementary School in the Rogers Park neighborhood earlier this year.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times, Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Fewer than half of all CPS students and about one-third of high schoolers have chosen to return to their classrooms later this spring in their last opportunity to resume in-person learning before the fall, according to newly released district data.

Those modest return rates come despite the share of students opting to return increasing from the last time officials asked families, and now including thousands of high school students for whom this was the first chance to make their preferences known.

In all, 121,000 students in all grades and programs said on a survey returned earlier this week that they’re interested in returning to school, CPS said. Another 136,500 opted to continue remote learning, and 20,700 students didn’t answer the survey and will default to virtual schooling.

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“These are all very hopeful trends for us,” Sherly Chavarria, CPS’ chief of teaching and learning, said at Wednesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.

“Too many students have not been well-served by remote learning, and that’s why we’ve been working night and day to offer an in-person option for our high school students.”

Among special education cluster students and those in preschool through eighth grades, 95,000 kids — or 46% of the 205,600 in those programs and grades — chose to return. Tens of thousands of those students have already been in classes. About 77,000 initially opted in last time around — though that dropped to 60,000 by the time K-8 schools reopened earlier this month.

A little over 35% of high school students — 26,000 of 73,000 — opted to resume in-person learning, 45% chose to stay remote and about 20% didn’t respond. The district has set a “target” reopening date of April 19, but negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union are ongoing and that date hasn’t been finalized.

New high school details

Officials outlined new details about the high school reopening framework Wednesday, including guidelines that will determine the number of days students will attend classes — one, two or four. Each school will have a different plan depending on the number of students it enrolls, the share of students opting to return and the building’s capacity to allow for social distancing.

Most high schools will see half their in-person students attend Monday and Tuesday while the other half go Thursday and Friday. In schools where fewer than 250 students are enrolled, administrators can choose a four-day per week model. The same option is open to schools that have between 250 and 1,000 students as long as fewer than two-thirds of their students chose to return and they have enough classroom space to stay socially distant.

Students at high schools with more than 1,000 students will likely attend two days a week, but administrators may be forced to cut down to one day if more than two-thirds of their students opt in and they have limited classroom space.

CPS’ overall opt-in rates mark an improvement for district officials who had hoped families would become more comfortable with the idea of in-person learning as time went on. But they still mean a majority of students will continue remote learning.

The students choosing to return to classrooms continue to be majority Black, Latino and Asian American in a district that’s 91% students of color, and the share of Black and Brown students going back has grown since the third quarter.

But as was the case in the first wave of reopening, in-person learners are disproportionately white, according to CPS data. Over 25,600 students opting for in-person learning are white, accounting for 21% of those planning to return in district that’s 11% white.

About 72% of the district’s 35,400 white students are going back to classrooms while 36% of Black students, 44% of Latino children and 36% of Asian American kids are returning. About 44% of homeless children and special education students opted to resume in-person learning.

Families and teachers have expressed concerns over the past few months that CPS is pushing to reopen schools while failing to improve remote learning for the majority of students who are staying online. In response, the district is planning to send a survey to high school students in the coming weeks to ask their thoughts on reopening and input for remote learning improvements, schools chief Janice Jackson said.

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