The Rundown Podcast - Show Tile
Stay in the loop with the Windy City’s biggest news. Angela Cheng / WBEZ Chicago
The Rundown Podcast - Show Tile
Stay in the loop with the Windy City’s biggest news. Angela Cheng / WBEZ Chicago

A Chicago teacher says a new state law allowing student absences to attend civic events recognizes learning also takes place outside the classroom. Cook County set another record for opioid overdose deaths. Four bridges on Chicago’s Southeast side will be getting repairs thanks to a boost in federal funding.

The Rundown Podcast - Show Tile
Stay in the loop with the Windy City’s biggest news. Angela Cheng / WBEZ Chicago
The Rundown Podcast - Show Tile
Stay in the loop with the Windy City’s biggest news. Angela Cheng / WBEZ Chicago

A Chicago teacher says a new state law allowing student absences to attend civic events recognizes learning also takes place outside the classroom. Cook County set another record for opioid overdose deaths. Four bridges on Chicago’s Southeast side will be getting repairs thanks to a boost in federal funding.

Erin Allen: Good morning, welcome to Thursday. I'm Erin Allen and this is The Rundown.

When we're at school, we learn a lot, but the world of lessons you learn outside the classroom just hit different. The state of Illinois is acknowledging this with a new law that gives middle and high school students one excused absence a year to attend a civic event. Lauren Bianchi teaches sociology and gender studies at George Washington High School in Chicago. She says the opportunities for this are abundant.

Lauren Bianchi: Of course engaging with other community members, take informed collective action with people in your community, having dialogue with elected officials and community leaders. These are all the types of things that I would want my students to have the opportunity to do as they choose.

Erin Allen: Bianchi says schools should maybe even go a step further than just a law and actually facilitate student involvement in their communities. 

So there's taking a day off for civic engagement and then there's straight up absenteeism. Will Fletcher is the Chicago public schools Inspector General and he's saying that the latter needs to be better tracked. He told my colleagues Sarah Karp that many schools are labeling missing students as transfers or lost without verifying or doing proper outreach. 

Will Fletcher: There are steps that schools are supposed to take to try to locate, they're supposed to make phone calls, they're supposed to write letters, they're supposed to try to do the best they can to figure out where the students are.

Erin Allen: Fletcher says this can mask the true level of dropouts and chronically absent students and it can mean that students need an intervention of some sort, but they aren't getting it. The school district says it's going to create a team to better track the number of absentees and provide support to students who aren't going to school. 

The number of deaths from opioids and Cook County has set a new record. Officials say the count will likely surpass 2000 after all the autopsies are completed. The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that this would mean Cook County will have been setting records for two back to back years. In 2021 the county reported an unprecedented 1,936 deaths from opioid overdoses. Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago said the county maybe seriously undercounting the deaths. Lee Freedman is an associate professor at UIC, and he led the study. He says the drug war style approach hasn't been working and instead of focusing on supply and locking people up, there need to be more treatment options in embracing existing solution's like medical professionals providing clean needles and distributing drugs that reverse the effects of an overdose. 

Did you hear the Vice President, Kamala Harris was in Chicago yesterday? She went to the 95th street bridge with local officials to celebrate a boost in federal funding to repair four bridge is on the southeast side of Chicago. The city is receiving a $144 million grant through the 2021 infrastructure bill. The grant is for the Illinois international ports bridges which cross the Calumet Heights river. They'll get repairs new bike lanes and better sidewalks. Vice President Harris says the 95th street bridge hasn't had a major repairing decades like many across the U.S. 

Kamala Harris: About 43,000 bridges, almost 1 in 10, show signs of severe distress in our country. And you know, for years people talked about this problem, but now I am proud to say we will finally fix this problem.

Erin Allen: The project will cost an estimated $300 million dollars. 

If you've got the gift of gab, a way with words, you got bars, Chicago is planning to name its own first ever poet laureate. Yesterday, the city announced it's accepting nominations online from the public through January 18th. Nominees would be vetted for eligibility and if they're approve, they'll be invited to apply for the laureate program. The winner will be selected this spring will serve for two years and received a $50,000 grant. The city intends for the poet to serve as an ambassador for Chicago's literary and creative communities. You can get more information at Chicago dot gov.

And before we get to weather, Chicago has lost a few iconic hometown legends. The Drummer for Earth Wind and Fire – Fred White – passed away on Sunday. He was in with the group during the ‘70s and ‘80s when they made some of their biggest bops like “Let’s Groove,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “Shining Star” and, most notably, on “September,” which Spotify lists as having been played on its platform 1.18 billion times. Fred White was 67 years old. And then on Monday, Frank Galati passed away. He was a Tony Award-winning Chicago director, writer – basically an Chicago theater icon. He was best-known for his work at Steppenwolf Theatre and the Goodman Theater, including his adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which moved to Broadway and for directing “Ragtime” in 1998. Frank Galati was 79.

As for weather, it's gonna snow today if it's not already. Temperatures will be in the mid thirties, pretty consistently cloudy tonight with a low in the upper twenties to low thirties. And that's it for The Rundown today, stay warm. I'm Erin Allen and I'll talk to you tomorrow morning.


WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.