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1 in 3 CPS kids absent after winter break, principals association says

The school system, which tracks student attendance, has not yet released figures from Monday and Tuesday, when classes resumed before the Chicago Teachers Union voted to reject in-person work starting Wednesday.

People climb the stairs at Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
People climb the stairs at Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

More than one-third of Chicago Public Schools students were absent from classes the first two days back from winter break at the start of this week, according to a survey of school leaders conducted by the Chicago principals association.

The school system, which tracks student attendance, has not yet released figures from Monday and Tuesday, when classes resumed after break and before the Chicago Teachers Union voted to reject in-person work, leading CPS to cancel Wednesday’s classes.

But Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said in a virtual media briefing Wednesday that an estimated 36,500 students were absent out of the 107,000 enrolled in the 225 schools whose administrators responded to the survey — a 34% absence rate.

The district’s 515 non-charter schools enroll about 290,000 students. LaRaviere said the survey’s sample size was large enough that he’s confident the results are accurate within 5%. He concluded somewhere between 107,000 and 118,000 students were likely absent.

Most of the absences were concentrated in 24 schools, he said, all but two majority Black or Hispanic. Eight schools’ administrators reported 60% absence rates.

CPS officials didn’t respond to requests Wednesday to comment on or confirm the principals association’s findings.

The district said earlier this week that about 18% of teachers were not in schools Monday. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said Tuesday said he recognized many families were in fear this week and said some schools he visited were half empty Monday while others were full of kids excited to be back after the break.

LaRaviere, a frequent critic of CPS leaders, said the district has not properly planned for the post-holidays return, citing the “disaster that was the district’s attempt at using COVID-19 testing as a mitigation strategy” which he said gave the public a peak at the inefficiency principals deal with on a daily basis.

“The mayor and our district don’t have sound strategies for using the people and resources we do have,” he said.

Citing survey responses from school administrators, LaRaviere also said about half of district schools have reported unsatisfactory cleanliness conditions. The Sun-Times reported problems with CPS’ privatized custodial services in the fall, which featured staff and families picking up mops to clean filthy schools themselves after rats and cockroaches were seen around the buildings. The district parted with its facilities chief soon after.

“The district should use this remote time to ensure the district-wide return to in-person learning is safe — testing, addressing staffing and cleanliness issues,” LaRaviere said.

City health officials have said they don’t have evidence of widespread in-school infection because they’ve implemented mitigations such as vaccination, masking and improved ventilation. And cases among students and staff have remained relatively low so far this school year.

But principals have to go to schools whether or not classes are going on, LaRaviere said, “So if you have principals saying buildings need to be closed up and something needs to be addressed ... you have to throw away your talking points and actually listen and hear what they’re trying to say to you.

“They don’t want time off, they don’t want there to be two weeks off, or two weeks remote if the district is not going to try to take concrete steps to address the problems.”