CHICAGO - Thousands of Chicago Public Schools students returned to school on Monday morning, the second — and largest — wave of students to go back to classrooms after almost a year of remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
CPS did not immediately provide any details on how many of the 37,000 students in kindergarten through fifth grade who signed up for in-person learning actually showed up. Roughly 5,000 pre-kindergarten students and special education students returned to the classroom when in-person learning became available for them last month.
Next Monday, another 18,500 students — sixth, seventh and eighth grades — who opted in for in-person learning in the nation’s third-largest school district will be allowed back into their schools.
On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson welcomed students back to Hawthorne Elementary School in the Lakeview neighborhood on the city’s North Side.
Lightfoot and Jackson spoke of happy students — some literally skipping to school — and of the $100 million spent to make safe those facilities that were closed last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is exactly what we fought for," said Lightfoot, in an apparent reference to the contentious negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union that delayed the reopening of schools. "This is the moment that we knew would be possible and important in the lives of our young people. ... That’s why this giving parents an option to come back in-person for their students was so important."
A big piece of the picture is the city’s high schools, all of which remain closed to students. On Monday, Lightfoot and Jackson could not provide any details on when those schools would resume in-person learning, saying only that CPS will begin talking with the teachers union about that this week.
Addressing concerns that have been voiced on social media and elsewhere that some schools simply do not have the staff to reopen safely, Jackson said there is not a single school in the district that cannot start welcoming students back into the classroom. The district has already hired hundreds of substitute teachers and staffers, with plans to hire more, she said.
Only about 30% of the district’s students through the eighth grade have opted in for in-person learning. But Jackson suggested that interest among parents to allow their students to return to school at the start of the fourth quarter in early April is high.
"I fully anticipate a huge jump in the number of parents who opt in," she said.
The mayor said the schools have offered vaccine opportunities to nearly 18,000 employees.