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Reports: Chicago to reverse course and announce all-remote start to school year

The reversal would be significant nationally, since it would make Chicago the latest large school district to announce an all-remote start.

Chicago’s teachers union began calling for an all-remote start in mid-July. On Monday Aug. 3, they staged a rally at City Hall.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Read the latest on Chicago’s plans to start school remotely here.

Chicago Public Schools is expected to announce Wednesday that it will start the year remotely, abandoning course on a hybrid plan that was sharply criticized by the city’s teachers union, according to multiple media outlets.

The reversal will be significant nationally, since it makes Chicago the latest large school district to announce an all-remote start. Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, and Miami-Dade, the fourth-largest, have announced plans to start the year remotely. New York City, the largest school district in the country with more than 1 million students, still plans for students to return to school for some in-person learning a few days a week.

District officials did not have an immediate comment Tuesday evening.

Chicago had not yet finalized its reopening plan, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson saying they wanted to gather feedback from parents and educators and closely monitor COVID-19 cases in the city before the district’s final announcement. In a series of town hall meetings held last week — as COVID-19 positivity rates began to climb throughout the region — the majority of respondents consistently said in answer to a district survey that they were either somewhat or very uncomfortable with the hybrid plan.

That plan introduced a “2-1-2 scheduling model” that divided most students into “pods,” in which they spend the same two consecutive days each week at school and the same two days learning at home. Notable exceptions were pre-kindergarten students, who would attend in person five days a week, and high school juniors and seniors, who would be all-remote. On Wednesdays, all students would participate in live virtual instruction with their classroom teacher.

The district also gave families the option of all-remote learning for the first quarter — but last week it sent text messages giving them a week to decide. With the deadline Friday, some schools were hastily calling town hall meetings to try and answer questions. Still, many parents said they didn’t have enough details about the all-remote option to decide by the deadline.

The city’s teachers union staged a rally Monday outside of City Hall, calling for a change in plans and threatening to strike if teachers had to return to buildings without proper safety precautions. “I do not want to be the sacrificial lamb, because you’re forcing us to go back into an environment that is dangerous,” said Andrea Parker, an elementary school teacher.

As reports of the remote plan surfaced Tuesday, Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the union, said that if the district opts for all-remote learning, it must make sure that schools are fully equipped for virtual learning. “Based on the discussions that we have had with Mayor Lightfoot’s team, we are not far enough,” Gates said.

At National Teachers Academy, an elementary school on the city’s South Side, teachers made a plea directly to parents in a letter. “We understand this is far from ideal, and we are aware of the burden it places on families and our students, who we miss desperately; but we believe that CPS absolutely CANNOT SAFELY OPEN at this time with the hybrid model plan.”

In Chicago, where three-quarters of students are considered low-income and some neighborhoods are considered child care deserts, the city has not offered specific answers to questions about child care options for families. School district officials last week said that they were looking into partnerships with the park district and with libraries to support families, but stopped short of sharing any specifics.

Chalkbeat has been tracking reopening plans of the state’s largest districts and throughout Chicago’s metro area. Under pressure from educators and parents, several districts that originally announced hybrid plans have reversed course in recent days or pushed back their start dates.

Chicago starts school Sept. 8.

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