CHICAGO - After seeing a significant drop in the number of pre-kindergarten and special education students enrolled in its online classes, the Chicago Public Schools on Friday announced that many of those children would return to the classroom by the end of December.
“It is evident that online learning is not working for many of our students, and we must explore every possible opportunity to safely bring students back to school,” CPS officials said in a letter to parents that was posted on its web site.
CPS, which said all students would continue remote learning when the second quarter starts next month, did not indicate a specific date of when it would start phasing back to in-person instruction for their “most vulnerable” children. But it noted that administrators would make a decision in the next few weeks after consulting with public health officials. The district added that it hopes more grades would return to the classroom as early as January.
The Chicago Teachers Union said it would fight the plan that the union’s attorney Thad Goodchild called “ill-timed, reckless and illegal.” Not only do statistics show the coronavirus pandemic is worsening, the union contends, but the district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have not done nearly enough or invested sufficient money to make sure the school buildings are safe.
“Special education students — children who are among the school district’s most medically vulnerable students — will be learning in-person in November, along with the District’s littlest learners,” according to a statement from the union. “That move defies the science and puts thousands of students, family members and educators at risk from the deadly pandemic.”
But the district said it has taken “extensive measures... to ensure the heath and safety of our students.” When the children return, it also noted the schools will have in place a host of safety measures, including temperature checks, a requirement to wear face masks at all times and strict adherence to social distancing.
Further, the district told parents, “Many daycares and preschools have been open since the spring with very few cases of COVID-19 transmission, and national data has shown that schools do not seem to be a significant source of transmission.”
The district added that the move is necessary to address the largest single-year drop in enrollment in more than two decades — more than 15,000 students — that is largely driven by a drop in the number of new families enrolling this fall in elementary school and preschool programs.
“While we’re seeing similar trends across the country, the stunning decline among Black children enrolled in pre-K casts a somber light on how the pandemic and remote learning negatively impact our youngest learners,” LaTanya McDade, CPS’ chief education officer, said in a statement.
Additionally, parents of special education students have reported that their youngsters are having a difficult time with online learning, the district said.