Schools across Illinois are gearing up to start a new school year as the coronavirus pandemic continues unabated. The return-to-school plans run the gamut, from all remote learning, to full in-person learning, with many choosing a mix of remote and in-person instruction.
We’re monitoring this developing story for news that applies to families with school-age children and college students — in the greater Chicago area, primarily — so check back for updates.
Parents and students, here are answers to some pressing questions — researched and reported by WBEZ’s education team.
Do you have a question about schools reopening that WBEZ’s education team could answer? Let us know here.
We’d say the chances are 50-50 — and dropping by the day.
Right now, CPS is proposing a hybrid mix of remote and in-person learning for most students. (WBEZ made this easy-to-use guide that breaks down CPS’ preliminary plan by age group.)
But CPS has said repeatedly it would only go forward with in-person instruction if health conditions allow. And on Wednesday July 29, it got specific. CPS officials said it would offer some in-person instruction if the daily COVID-19 case count in Chicago stays below 400. The daily average is 246, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. That’s as of July 23, which is the city’s most up-to-date information.
And CPS is also facing growing opposition to any in-person instruction. The Chicago Teachers Union is strongly opposed, calling for school to start remote only. The Illinois Federation of Teachers is also calling for e-learning only to begin the year. And, on July 28, the American Federation of Teachers said it would support strikes as a last resort to ensure teachers remain safe.
Many parents are also skeptical. At a July 27 Chicago Public Schools virtual community meeting, 65% of the people who responded to a poll said they were either “not comfortable at all” or “somewhat not comfortable” with the school district’s reopening plan. Some 34% said they were “neutral,” “somewhat comfortable” or “very comfortable.”
Meanwhile, some suburban schools are beginning to backtrack on hybrid plans similar to what CPS is proposing. Recently, west suburban District 89 and Evanston Township High School switched to all remote, as did Oak Park’s elementary district. Plainfield School District 202, with nearly 27,000 students in 31 schools voted on July 27 to start the year remote only. For more details on suburban plans, check out Chalkbeat Chicago’s school reopening news.
CPS is pushing its hybrid plan, trying to make the case that it’s safe and can work. But its leaders have also said all along that they would switch to all remote learning if need be.
“The plan we’re proposing is designed to adapt to changing public health conditions and to evolving science,” Dr. Kenneth Fox, CPS’ chief health officer, said during a July 27 community meeting. “If it is safe to do so, we will begin our hybrid learning model on Sept. 8. As the public health situation in Chicago evolves, so will our plan. Should COVID cases arise too quickly and if the health and safety is thus threatened, we will pivot quickly to a full at-home learning model.”
Chicago school district leaders say the final decision about whether to actually have in-person instruction will be made at the end of August.
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