Mayor Lori Lightfoot Orders Chicago Public Schools To Stay Closed Until April 21

Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at Harold Washington Library on Aug. 29, 2019. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at Harold Washington Library on Aug. 29, 2019. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Orders Chicago Public Schools To Stay Closed Until April 21

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Updated at 6:47 p.m. March 19

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday announced that all of the city’s public schools will remain closed until April 21 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision, which Lightfoot announced during a live evening address, extends the ongoing two-week closure of CPS by an additional three weeks. It affects about 355,000 students who attend 642 traditional and charter schools across the city.

Lightfoot had originally wanted to keep the schools open, but she was overruled last Friday by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who ordered the closures of every public and private school in the state through March 30.

The health crisis has worsened since then, with the number of cases mounting, and Illinois recording the first deaths due to the pandemic.

“We need to give parents and guardians plenty of advance notice about this reality and the ability to plan,” Lightfoot said in announcing the extension of the school break. “CPS and the city will continue to support you in the ways that they have through these early days of the school closures.”

Soon after Lightfoot spoke, teachers union President Jesse Sharkey tweeted, “I just heard from CPS that teachers and staff will continue to be paid during the extended shutdown.”

Also Thursday, Pritzker said Illinois parents should prepare for the possibility that the statewide school shutdown will carry on beyond March 30.

“We’ve set a deadline … by which we think students would go back but I also think that parents should be contemplating the possibility that might be extended,” Pritzker said.

Just after Lightfoot spoke, Chicago Public Schools announced it was going to ask the state to allow it to skip rating its schools this year. The school district is going to propose that schools carry their current rating for the next year.

It also announced it is canceling all district-mandated standardized tests given to students, including the NWEA/Map assessment. The state gives an additional test and has indicated that it may ask the federal government to forgo that also.

The school district also said it is preparing more work for students to do at home. In the days ahead, it will provide more guidance for teachers, students and families about how or whether this work should be counted toward a student’s grades. The most recent guidance from CPS to schools is that work done during the shutdown can only count if it improves a student’s grade.

Chicago Public Schools will also continue to give out bags of food for lunch and breakfast for students. Lightfoot said that billionaire Ken Griffin donated $2.5 million to CPS and to the Chicago Food Depository to support this effort.

Lightfoot also used her speech Thursday to give an impassioned defense of her newly issued order that all people who are showing COVID-19 symptoms must remain at home.

She said the move was necessary because some people have not heeded previous requests that sick people stay home, with negative consequences for efforts to contain the outbreak.

“Most of you have listened, but some have not,” Lightfoot said. “And those of you that have not, have not only put yourselves at risk, you are endangering the public. We have documented an increasing number of cases in which sick people went to their workplace and got other people sick with the coronavirus.”

She said there would be “consequences” for violators, without providing further details of what the penalties might be. Officials had said earlier Thursday that the police and the city’s Department of Public Health would be issuing citations to those who do not abide by the order.

But police officers complained that the announcement baffled them and they lacked guidance on how to safely and legally enforce the order from City Hall.

“I know these restrictions are causing hardships, but we are doing this to save lives, pure and simple,” said Lightfoot, who was elected less than a year ago. “These measures work and we need them now as this virus progresses here in Chicago.”

Also in her speech Thursday, the mayor said the city was creating a low-interest loan fund for small businesses “severely impacted” by the coronavirus crisis.

Lightfoot said the fund would start with more than $100 million, including $25 million from the city, $50 million from the Chicago Community Catalyst Fund and $10 million from Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group.

The mayor also called for more help from Washington, saying she has been lobbying the state’s congressional delegation on a daily basis. Federal leaders are considering legislation that would help small businesses as well as major corporations, such as automakers and airlines.

“We have said and they know that federal stimulus packages must bring immediate relief to individuals, not just big businesses,” Lightfoot said. “Localities like Chicago should not be shouldering this burden alone.”

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Reporter Sarah Karp contributed to this story.