Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the nation’s third largest public school district, said Wednesday that it will start the school year remotely, citing parents’ concerns about in-person schooling amid an increase of COVID-19 cases in the city.
CPS said in a statement that all classes will be held exclusively online for its 355,000 students throughout the first quarter of the school year, which is scheduled to start on Sept. 9 and end on Nov. 8. At that point, the district will re-evaluate the severity of the pandemic to determine if schools can move to a hybrid learning model that allows most students to learn in classrooms at least two days a week.
“Through virtual community meetings and a myriad of surveys, over 87,000 CPS students, families, and staff members provided feedback on returning to school in the fall,” CPS said. “While many families expressed a desire to begin the year in a hybrid model, a large number of families did not feel comfortable sending their children back to school—approximately only one in five African-American and Latinx families planned to send their children back to school in person this fall.”
The CPS released a preliminary plan last month featuring a mix of in-person and remote learning for the upcoming school year. The plan was met with opposition from the 20,000 member-strong Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which has been threatening to strike unless the district switches to an all-remote plan.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, however, insisted that the decision to keep the city’s public schools closed for the fall rather than pressure from the teachers’ union.
“The answer is no,” said Lightfood during a press conference Wednesday in response to a question asking about union pressure. “As we have now repeatedly said about every decision that we’ve made in the context of this pandemic, we have to be guided by the science. Period.”
“When we announced the potential for a hybrid model some weeks ago, we were in a very different place in the arc of the pandemic,” the Democratic mayor added. According to Chicago’s public health commissioner Allison Arwady, the city averaged fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases reported per day a month ago. That number has increased to nearly 400 cases per day over the past two weeks.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey welcomed the change of course, calling the move “a win for teachers, students and parents.”
“It’s sad that we have to strike or threaten to strike to be heard, but when we fight we win,” Sharkey wrote on Twitter.