The Rundown: When will classes resume?

CPS hallway
An empty hallway at Chicago's Dawes Elementary School on Jan. 11, 2021. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
CPS hallway
An empty hallway at Chicago's Dawes Elementary School on Jan. 11, 2021. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

The Rundown: When will classes resume?

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Good afternoon! It’s Wednesday, and I can’t stop laughing at Elmo losing it in this clip from Sesame Street. Here’s what you need to know today.

(By the way, if you’d like this emailed to your inbox, you can sign up here.)

1. Classes are canceled in Chicago. So what happens now?

More than 300,000 public school students were not in class today after Chicago teachers voted to refuse in-person learning until Jan. 18 — or earlier if the current COVID-19 wave subsides.

Jesse Sharkey, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the union is scheduled to negotiate with school district officials over safety protocols surrounding in-person learning.

A big area of disagreement is deciding when schools should go back to remote learning. The union wants to adopt a plan that would trigger district-wide closures, while Chicago Public Schools has proposed a plan limiting any possible disruptions on a school-by-school basis.

It’s not clear if classes will continue to be canceled until an agreement is reached. School officials said they will update parents later today. [WBEZ]

2. Broader debate over remote learning re-emerges in school standoff

As the union and the school district negotiate over a return to in-person learning, a national debate has reignited over whether remote learning is needed now that vaccines are widely available. [New York Times]

On one side are those who argue that remote learning can be harmful. As my colleague Susie An reported early last year, students have suffered higher rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues since the pandemic hit, with doctor visits rising by about 31% in 2020 compared to 2019. [WBEZ]

And remote learning had a disproportionate impact on low-income families compared to wealthier ones. As WBEZ’s Sarah Karp reported recently, there was a “steep drop off in As and Bs for seventh graders in CPS schools serving almost all low-income students” in 2020. [WBEZ]

On the other side, critics say CPS hasn’t gotten ahead on testing at schools, and may not any time soon amid a national shortage of COVID-19 tests. That makes remote learning the only safe option, especially for people who are immunocompromised, as the city faces a record surge in cases.

As WBEZ reported this week, 25,000 tests out of 35,900 taken by students and staff had invalid results, according to the district. [WBEZ]

3. Things may look grim, but there is good news about omicron

Early and hopeful observations about omicron are holding up. As The New York Times reports, the variant is milder than previous strains and is less likely to send someone to the hospital. The newspaper reports that even when someone is hospitalized, the symptoms are less severe.

Dr. Leana Wen, a former health commissioner for Baltimore, said people should get their boosters and wear KN95 or N95 masks. But severe restrictions may no longer be needed.

“It’s unreasonable to ask vaccinated people to refrain from pre-pandemic activities,” Wen said. “After all, the individual risk to them is low, and there is a steep price to keeping students out of school, shuttering restaurants and retail shops and stopping travel and commerce.” [NYT]

But the stress on hospitals remains a cause for concern. As the Sun-Times reports, there are only three intensive care beds for the more than 800,000 people who live in Illinois’ Will and Kankakee counties. [Sun-Times]

4. Jan. 6 committee considers prime-time hearings

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol may hold rare prime-time hearings that include testimony from witnesses, Axios reports.

A committee aide said lawmakers want to reach “as many people as we can” through the hearings as former President Donald Trump and his allies have criticized the investigation as a witch hunt. [Axios]

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the Republicans on the committee, said today he will focus on fighting far-right extremism when he leaves Congress. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Meanwhile, the Justice Department estimates as many as 2,500 people could be charged for their roles in the attack on the Capitol. But, as The New York Times points out, a big question hanging over federal prosecutors is whether anyone beyond the rioters will be charged. [NYT]

5. Lightfoot’s request for a moratorium on electronic monitoring is denied by Cook County’s top judge

Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans will not temporarily suspend the use of electronic monitoring for defendants awaiting trial.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has pointed to the use of electronic monitoring as one cause for Chicago’s surge in violence that resulted in more than 800 homicides in 2021, making it the deadliest year in a quarter century.

“The mayor’s proposal seems to require that defendants facing certain allegations be considered guilty until proven innocent,” Evans wrote in a statement.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, the use of electronic monitoring has significantly expanded in recent years. In mid-2021, there were 3,599 defendants being monitored, up from about 1,400 in 2017. [Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • The World Health Organization says a news variant found in France is not a cause for concern. [New York Times]
  • Homer Plessy, a Black man whose arrest for refusing to leave a whites-only railroad car in 1892 led to the Supreme Court ruling, was posthumously pardoned by Louisiana’s governor. [NPR]
  • Jon Stewart criticized J.K. Rowling’s depiction of goblins in Harry Potter, saying it was clearly anti-Semitic. [A.V. Club]
  • Temperatures could dip to 12 degrees in the Chicago area tonight. [WGN]

Oh, and one more thing …

Things could alway be worse. I recently learned about the exoplanet HD 189733, also known as the “Rains of Terror.”

The far-off planet looks kinda like Earth, but the “weather on this planet is deadly,” according to NASA.

Scientists believe the planet rains glass, giving it the nickanme “Rains of Terror.” And because the wind blows at seven times the speed of sound, well, you get the picture. [Weather Channel]

Tell me something good …

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

Grace Margaret writes:

“In 2022, I am most looking forward to reclaiming my body and doing more physical activity after a 2021 marred with physical therapy, injections and surgeries (oh my). Never thought I’d be so excited to exercise and do yard work, but here we are.”

Feel free to email me at therundown@wbez.org or tweet me at @whuntah, and your responses might be shared here this week.

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