Defying Chicago’s Teachers Union, CPS Wants A Mix Of In-Person And Remote Learning This Fall

The district’s plan came just days after the Chicago Teachers Union said it wanted remote learning only.

Chicago Public Schools is planning a mix of remote and in-person for the fall. That means students Devonté Dansberry Jr. and Demontrae Dansberry will likely continue school from home at least part time as they did this spring.
Chicago Public Schools is planning a mix of remote and in-person learning for the fall. That means students like Devonté Dansberry Jr. and Demontrae Dansberry will likely continue school from home at least part-time as they did this spring. Courtesy of Rovonna Baldwin
Chicago Public Schools is planning a mix of remote and in-person for the fall. That means students Devonté Dansberry Jr. and Demontrae Dansberry will likely continue school from home at least part time as they did this spring.
Chicago Public Schools is planning a mix of remote and in-person learning for the fall. That means students like Devonté Dansberry Jr. and Demontrae Dansberry will likely continue school from home at least part-time as they did this spring. Courtesy of Rovonna Baldwin

Defying Chicago’s Teachers Union, CPS Wants A Mix Of In-Person And Remote Learning This Fall

The district’s plan came just days after the Chicago Teachers Union said it wanted remote learning only.

Most Chicago Public School students will be in school buildings two days a week and, on the other three days, learn remotely or work on assignments from home, according to a preliminary school reopening plan released Friday. But the youngest learners — preschoolers — will be in school full-time while the oldest — juniors and seniors — will be entirely online.

Also, schools could opt to bring students in special education, those learning English or those who are struggling into school buildings more often than other students.

“This model allows many of our students to reap the benefits that they can only achieve through in-person instruction in front of a highly-qualified teacher,” Schools CEO Janice Jackson said Friday morning. “There is no replacing a loving teacher and learning with your friends.”

The plan, impacting nearly 355,000 students, will now go to the public for feedback before a final plan is released in early August. CPS says a final decision on whether to proceed with in-person instruction will be made in late August based on health conditions at the time.

The school district’s plan sets up a clash with the Chicago Teachers Union, especially because it requires most teachers and staff to be in school buildings most days. Earlier this week, CTU leaders said the school district should start with remote learning only, and their attorney said no one can force teachers to work. The mayor on Friday said she wasn’t worried about a possible strike, saying, “Dr. Jackson and her team have been engaged with the CTU and teachers throughout this process. They will continue to do so.”

But in a statement Friday afternoon, the CTU said it “remains steadfast in its call for CPS to resume school this fall with full remote learning.”

“It’s impossible to resume in-person schooling without more investment, including additional teachers to facilitate smaller class sizes and counselors to address the emotional needs of students impacted by the pandemic,’ the CTU said. “The decision by the mayor and CPS to expend time, energy, and money on a plan to reopen school buildings rather than prepare to make full remote learning more rewarding is irresponsible.”

The school district says its plan includes measures to try to keep students and staff healthy, something the mayor and schools officials stressed repeatedly Friday in the face of concerns from the teachers union, parents and others. One key provision is that students will be grouped in “pods” of 15 and will travel through the school day with the same set of students. CPS says this plan allows for 50% of CPS students to be in school on any day.

However, the plan stresses that should COVID-19 cases spike, the decision could be made to go entirely remote.

“If one month from now, two months from now, six months from now, our local data worsen to a point where we could not support in classroom learning or needed to dial back other interactions, we would not hesitate to make that difficult recommendation,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner and a pediatrician. “But right now, for so many reasons, we are pleased to be talking about school this fall.”

According to the plan, parents who want to have their children at home entirely can choose to do so. And it allows for staff with medical or caretaking needs to apply for a leave of absence through revised procedures that will be announced later this month.

The school district is hosting a set of virtual community meetings starting the week of July 27.

Chicago Public Schools’ hybrid reopening plan

Pre-K Full day Programs Learn-at-School
Pre-K Half-day Programs Learn-at-School
Students in Grades K–10 Hybrid
Students in Grades 11 and 12 Learn-at-Home
Cluster Program Students Learn-at-School

Source: Chicago Public Schools

Earlier this week, the CTU came out strongly in favor of remote learning. Making the case in a CTU press conference, Ariam Abraham, an English teacher at Simeon High School, said she wants nothing more than to be with her students. Yet she worries about the health of her students and herself, as well as her colleagues.

She noted that the communities being hardest hit by COVID-19 are Black and Latino, and that parents in these neighborhoods are the ones most concerned about their children going back to schools.

“It is really difficult to reconcile that we are being encouraged and pushed, in fact, to open back up when we know for a fact that it is not safe,” Abraham said. “This is not about us wanting to do our jobs or not wanting to do our jobs. This is just at a baseline of wanting to keep people safe.”

Abraham and others said it would be better if the mayor and the school district were to announce starting entirely online now so that teachers could fashion their lessons for it.

But, according to the school district plan, because the vast majority of students will be doing some remote learning, it should be possible for classes to easily transition to entirely virtual classes.

The plan also includes a long list of safety protocols that will be in place. In addition to students staying with one group all day, they will have access to the 1.5 million masks already purchased by Chicago Public Schools and hand sanitizer anytime they want, and they will eat in their classrooms, unless the cafeteria is big enough so students can socially distance.

Jackson said the school district will try to keep the costs associated with reopening to the $75 million the school district has authorized for COVID-19 related costs. She also said she is expecting more federal aid. In a report released earlier this week, the CTU pegged the costs of a safe reopening between $450 million and $1.7 billion.

Jackson has said she wants to get students into classrooms with teachers because she is worried about learning loss. She and other school district leaders have acknowledged that, especially for some students, remote learning in the spring did not go well.

Also, many parents are desperate to have their children back in school.

Keith Kysel, whose daughter attends Murray Language Academy, said at an executive board meeting of the school’s parent teacher organization that all the members expressed a desire to have their children in class in the fall.

Kysel said staying at home was bad for his daughter.

“It basically made her a couch potato. I have seen her gain weight, there is no exercise, no social activity,” he said. “As much as I don’t like to agree with Trump sometimes, I think he made a point, it may drive some people to suicide.”

Kysel said he also heard a story from a teacher who said she asked to speak to a mother of a first grader, only to be told that no adult was home.

The advocacy group Raise Your Hand did a survey and found parents wanted a variety of options. They also found there were many problems with remote learning, including a lack of communication and that it was difficult for parents to identify what was expected of their children.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.