Chicago Public Schools students due back Aug. 22, earliest start in recent history

So much for planning a late-August vacation.

Chicago Public Schools students are due back Aug. 22, in what would be the district’s earliest start in recent memory. The proposed calendar represents a drastic departure from tradition.

The school system, the nation’s third-largest, for years has opened its doors after Labor Day, even as suburban districts moved their start dates earlier into August over the past decade.


This year CPS opened a week early for the full return to in-person learning; that pre-Labor Day start marked its earliest in almost a decade.

Besides starting on Aug. 22, the proposed schedule has the last day as June 7. The proposed schedule will be up for Board of Education approval at Wednesday’s monthly meeting. That adds up to 176 student attendance days with four teacher institute days, four school improvement days, two report card pickup days and four teacher professional development days.

For the first time, students would get a full week off for Thanksgiving break instead of the usual three days. First semester finals would be completed before winter break, with a clean start to the new semester in January. That would mean days and weeks are less evenly distributed over the four quarters of the school year, but the calendar would align more closely with those of suburban districts and local colleges and universities. Spring break would be the week of April 3.

Parents and students had an opportunity to weigh in on two proposed calendars, one starting Aug. 22 and another Aug. 29. Officials didn’t immediately release those survey results.

CPS saw lower first-day attendance than usual when it tried a pre-Labor Day start this year — 91.2% showed up, compared to an average of 94.3% from 2016 to 2019 — though that also was likely related to the pandemic. The last time classes started before the holiday, the 2013-14 school year, about 93.5% went to school the first day.

Families have long appreciated the ability to wrap up summer plans and vacations before returning after the long Labor Day weekend, but the school year has dragged later into June. Classes didn’t end until June 22 last school year, the latest possible because Labor Day fell on Sept. 7.

Some parents and teachers have complained that the later start for CPS has meant less preparation time for standardized tests, college admissions tests like the ACT and SAT as well as testing for Advanced Placement classes.

CPS may be late to the trend but it follows at least two dozen districts in Cook County — with dozens more in DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will — that have started bringing their kids back to the classroom by mid-August in recent years.

In 2004, only 16 of about 1,000 school districts statewide had teachers or students back by Aug. 14, according to records kept by the Illinois State Board of Education. By 2019, more than half of the state’s 910 districts saw teachers back or classes getting underway by