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Students gather before the first day of school at Pickard Elemenary.

Students gather before the first day of school at Pickard Elemenary.

Manuel Martinez

The Rundown: CPS students return to class

Hey there! It’s Monday, and these photos of the Air and Water Show almost make me wish I’d braved the rain (and crowds) to check out the festivities. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Chicago schools began with an early start date and a hope for more normalcy

Chicago Public Schools students returned to classes today with hopes for a more normal academic year after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez is optimistic, pointing to an earlier start date and extra resources to help students catch up academically and support their social and emotional needs.

But the district is also starting the year with staff shortages in key positions, including bus drivers and special education teachers.

COVID-19 vaccination rates also remain lower than officials would like, standing at about 51% among district-run, non-charter schools. [WBEZ]

Martinez has also touted the importance of career and technical education, which aims to help provide “more direct, debt-free routes to in-demand careers,” Chalkbeat Chicago reports. [Chalkbeat]

WBEZ has created a parents’ guide to mental health resources for their kids. [WBEZ]

2. Dr. Anthony Fauci says he will step down after half a century in government

The country’s preeminent infectious-disease expert is planning to step down in December.

Fauci, 81, has led the National Institute of Allergy and Infections since 1984. Before that, he was with the parent agency, the National Institutes of Health, since 1968. The COVID-19 pandemic made Fauci a household name and brought forth criticism from some Republican politicians.

His role made him an adviser to seven presidents on diseases, including AIDS, Ebola, Zika and COVID-19. [NPR]

“It was one of the most important challenges that we have had to face, and I believe my team and I — and let history be the judge of that — have made a major contribution,” Fauci told the Washington Post. “We didn’t do it alone, but we played a major role in the development of the vaccines that have now saved millions of lives.”

But he also said the pandemic — and the politically charged environment that came with it — was “extremely stressful.” [Washington Post]

3. This year’s state fair showcased Illinois’ divisive politics

An Illinois tradition that typically highlights the state’s cultural diversity also became a platform for divisive politics that highlight the state’s growing political divide this year.

Republican candidate for governor Darren Bailey described the city of Chicago as a “hellhole” last week during a fair event put on by Awake Illinois, which was “born from the anti-mask, anti-vaccine fervor of the pandemic,” the Chicago Tribune reports.

Meanwhile, state Democrats warned of hate, anger and fear in the Republican Party.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told Democrats not to become “a party of anger, fear, hate and violence.” [Chicago Tribune]

4. Rent prices are on the rise in Chicago

Average rents in the Chicago area have gone up 9% since 2021 — and there’s little to no sign prices will come back down anytime soon.

Many renters have started making lifestyle changes or searching for more affordable units to cope with rising prices and the end of rental assistance programs offered during the height of the pandemic, the Chicago Tribune reports.

William M. Bennett, an adjunct lecturer of real estate at Northwestern University, told the Trib landlords had to offer concessions during the pandemic. But COVID-19 vaccines and a return to the office have since increased demand. [Chicago Tribune]

5. Loyola’s Red Line Plaza has been renamed for Sister Jean

Loyola University students will be greeted with a reminder of one of the school’s most recognizable figures on their way to the Rogers Park campus after the nearby Red Line Plaza was dedicated Sunday with a large sign saying, “Home of the world famous Sister Jean.”

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, who turned 103 yesterday, celebrated the recognition with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. JB Pritzker and Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).

“She really kind of ascended kind of the craziness and the fun of March Madness and just was this icon for goodness,” Lightfoot said. “Sister Jean, I think, really awakened the spirit in the city.” [Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Russia blames Ukraine for an attack that killed the daughter of a prominent Russian who has major sway with Putin. [New York Times]

  • HBO’s House of the Dragon premiered last night. Here’s a recap — spoilers ahead, obviously. [NPR]

  • Pfizer asked the FDA to greenlight new omicron booster shots. [NPR]

  • Here’s one way to prevent catalytic converter thefts: Paint them pink. [Sun-Times]

Oh, and one more thing …

Rob Heitz was out on his boss’ boat in 2003 and dove into water that was only 2 to 3 feet deep, hitting his head and leaving him a quadriplegic. He was told he would never walk again, as the impact from the dive had shattered one of the vertebrae in his neck.

But the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago offered Heitz an opportunity to participate in a study using a robotic device that would eventually train his brain and body to walk again. And last week he swam by himself from Alcatraz to San Francisco, the Sun-Times reports.

The swim went as planned, he told the Sun-Times, though he had to jump in the water quickly because his team got word a barge would be passing through. [Sun-Times]

Tell me something good ...

Back-to-school is one of the unofficial markers of the end of summer. As a relatively new Chicago resident, I spent much of my summer checking off bucket list experiences like Lollapalooza, street festivals and baseball games. But as the season comes to an end, I’m wondering what your favorite smaller-scale events or activities are that I should check out next year?

Feel free to email me, and your response might end up in this week’s newsletter.

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