As Chicago Public Schools Reopen In-Person, Nearly 100,000 Students Might Not Show Up

By Cara Ding
Cara Ding
Cara Ding
Cara is a Chicago-based Epoch Times reporter. She can be reached at cara.ding@epochtimes.com.
August 11, 2021 Updated: August 20, 2021

CHICAGO—As Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plan to reopen all 638 schools for in-person classes in the fall, 80,620 students are deemed to have medium risks of not coming back, according to CPS’s analysis of attendance rates.

These students were chronically absent during the last school year, when CPS pushed for citywide online learning amid the pandemic. Another 17,661 students who attended few or no classes are deemed at high risk, according to CPS director of family and community engagement Kareem Pender at a community engagement forum on Aug. 10.

The three grades with the biggest numbers of high-risk students are 9th grade, 10th grade, and 11th grade; at 2,258, 2,060, and 1,719 respectively.

CPS interim CEO José Torres has made it his first priority to reengage the 100,000 students that have risks of leaving the school system in fall. He asks schools and community organizations to canvass neighborhoods, make phone calls to students’ homes, and visit student homes in person. CPS has about 340,000 students system-wide.

“We cannot afford to lose one student,” Michele Clark High School principal Charles Anderson told The Epoch Times, “We are going to find them.” Anderson asked his security guard, behavioral health team members, and counselor to find high-risk students at their homes. He declined to share details about those visits.

According to the most recent data published by CPS, Michele Clark has one of the highest truancy rates among CPS schools: One out of three Michele Clark students skipped virtual classes between March 8 and 12.

The school sits in the Austin neighborhood, which this year has the second-highest number of homicides among all Chicago neighborhoods, at 42. Another 212 people were wounded in Austin, mostly through gunshots.

“For a lot of young people, the school is a safe haven,” Andriene Johnson, vice president of violence intervention and prevention services at UCAN, told The Epoch Times. UCAN, a social services nonprofit on the West Side of Chicago, helps most at-risk youths to get back on the right track.

“I know the schools really did a great job of getting equipment and WiFi to families, but sometimes virtual is just not the best for young people,” Johnson said. “The pandemic gave young people a lot of idle time. You know, my grandmother used to say, ‘Your mind should never be idle.’”

Johnson thinks the idleness of young people contributed to the uptick in juvenile crimes such as carjackings. In 2020, Chicago saw more carjackings than in the previous two years combined, and teenagers are driving the surge, according to University of Chicago research based on arrest data, suspect estimates data, and crime clearance rates. The neighborhoods with high rates of carjackings in Chicago are also those with low public school attendances rates, mostly on the South and West Sides of Chicago.

During the first half of 2021, the number of juveniles arrested for carjackings nearly doubled compared to the same time last year, based on police arrest records obtained by The Epoch Times.

Many juveniles take part in carjackings just for fun, according to Chicago Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan.

“It’s just a game for these kids. They’re taking the cars, and they aren’t selling them or going to chop shops. They’re maybe going to McDonald’s and then they’re going to carjack another car. We have kids who do 14 carjackings a week,” Deenihan said in a statement sent to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

Some of UCAN’s 65 Safe Passage workers will work with CPS to re-engage at-risk students before the new school year. Safe Passage workers watch over the safety of students on routes nearby schools on school days.

Cara Ding
Cara Ding
Cara is a Chicago-based Epoch Times reporter. She can be reached at cara.ding@epochtimes.com.