Chicago Public Schools is expecting to double the number of students in classrooms on April 19, jumping to 121,000 students, school district officials announced Wednesday.
Overall, 43.5% of all students who attend district-run schools plan to go in person, including high schoolers for the first time. If they all show up, this would be significantly more than the 24% attending now. In-person classes for preschool and elementary students began earlier this year. Charter schools have separate reopening plans.
District officials are expecting a big increase in preschool, elementary and middle school students returning. Just last Friday, CPS said only about 50,000 students, or less than a quarter of all students in those age groups, had attended even one day of in-person class over a one month period. But by the start of the fourth quarter on April 19, CPS is expecting more than 95,000, or 46%, to return.
“I think this speaks to families feeling more comfortable returning to school as the public health picture has been improving, and they have probably been seeing other students going to school for a few weeks now,” said Sherly Chavarria, CPS’ chief of teaching and learning.
The picture is different for high school students. About 37% of high school students said they plan to attend in-person classes, and 45% said they want to stay remote. But 19% did not respond. The school district has said that if students don’t respond, they will have to stay remote.
The school district is still negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union over the terms of high school reopening. April 19 is a target date and is not set in stone.
Also, prior to Tuesday’s deadline for the “intent to return” forms, high school students and parents were given little information about how many days students will be able to attend in-person or how their class schedule will look.
On Wednesday, CPS officials said they are telling principals they must maintain current class schedules. The number of days students can attend will vary based on how many students are coming back and the space available for social distancing.
Most high schools will be similar to elementary schools in offering a hybrid program, with students going two days a week in-person and three days remote. This allows two groups of students to switch off the days they are in the buildings.
But schools with less than 250 students, and where fewer than two-thirds are returning, can offer four days of in-person learning. Meanwhile, large schools with lots of students opting may only be able to offer students one day of in-person instruction.
CPS is going to hold a town hall with high school students and survey them to find out what they want for in-person learning and how remote learning can be improved. CPS also announced Wednesday it is making plans to vaccinate students over the age of 16.
Also, just because parents and students say they will return in-person does not mean they will. They can change to fully remote at any time. Initially, 37% of preschool, elementary and cluster students said they would return, but only about 24% ultimately did.