CPS students — including high schoolers — to get last chance to opt in for in-person learning before next year

Starting Monday, families will have two weeks to decide whether to send their kids back later this spring.

SHARE CPS students — including high schoolers — to get last chance to opt in for in-person learning before next year
A student sits in class at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy at 3319 N Clifton Ave in Lakeview, Monday, March 1, 2021.

A student sits in class at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy at 3319 N Clifton Ave in Lakeview, Monday, March 1, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

All Chicago Public Schools families will have an opportunity starting Monday to opt into in-person learning for the fourth academic quarter as the district prepares for more students — and even potentially high schoolers — to return as early as mid-April.

Officials plan to send a questionnaire next week and allow two weeks for families to make their preferences known between staying virtual or returning to school for the rest of the spring.

The 145,000 pre-kindergarten, elementary and special education cluster students who are still remote can return April 19, the first day of the fourth quarter. The families of the 61,000 children in those grades and programs who said they would return to classrooms this week or will be going back next week won’t need to fill out the form again.

High schools and academic centers don’t yet have a scheduled return date. Those families can opt into in-person learning, but it remains to be seen whether an agreement will be reached in time between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union to reopen high schools. Union President Jesse Sharkey has said he believes a deal is possible, and district leaders said last week it would be “unacceptable” for the school system’s 74,000 high schoolers not to have a chance to return.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson and the district’s education chief, LaTanya McDade, wrote in an email to parents Friday that “we hope [high school] students will be able to return to school as early as mid-April.

“We are asking families to tell us their learning preference now so that we can ensure we have the necessary staffing and classroom models in place to safely support all interested high school students,” they said.

The two-week opt-in window — with a March 11:59 p.m. March 19 deadline — will be the last chance for CPS students to choose to return to classrooms this school year. Those who decide to stay remote won’t be able to change their minds until next fall, but those who pick in-person can opt out at any time.

It’s the first opportunity high school families will have to let the district know their preferences. Unless CPS and CTU offer more clarity over the next two weeks, those parents may know little to no details about the high school plan before they have to submit their choice. Similar to the K-8 reopening — in which 17,000 students backed out after initially choosing to return — many families could end up opt in now, but then make their final decision when they have more information.

Responding to criticism that the district didn’t take parent input in the K-8 process, CPS is hosting two virtual town hall events this month. One is scheduled for high school families from 5-6:30 p.m. next Wednesday, and another for elementary schools will be held 5-6:30 p.m. March 16.

Jackson and McDade said CPS will also look to engage students and make opportunities for their perspectives to be heard in the coming weeks.

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