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With little notice, Chicago to cancel school for first-ever ‘Vaccination Awareness Day’

A close-up photo of a person getting a shot in the arm.

Chicago says families can receive $100 gift cards for getting a first dose of a vaccination at a site operated by the school district or public health department.

Kmatta / Getty Images

With a week’s notice, Chicago Public Schools said in a Thursday night email that it will cancel school Friday, Nov. 12 for a “Vaccination Awareness Day.”

The announcement comes two days after federal health officials gave emergency authorization for the Pfizer vaccine for use among children ages 5 to 11. The extra day off will make next week a three-day school week for students, since Veterans Day is already a district holiday. 

In an email to parents Thursday, the district’s CEO, Pedro Martinez, wrote that next Friday is an “opportunity for parents and guardians to take their children five years of age and older to get vaccinated at their pediatrician’s office, at a healthcare provider, or at a CPS school-based site or community vaccination event.”

A list of pediatric vaccination sites can be found here.

Typically, the school calendar is set well before the start of the academic year and approved by the Board of Education. 

Immediate reaction on social media was mixed, with some parents and educators praising the decision and others lamenting the lack of notice and string of days off from school. In a statement, the city’s teachers union called the decision a “welcome relief from the stress of trying to protect and educate students without the resources to address their needs.” (The district said Friday it is working with the parks and libraries to offer some child care programs for families, given the late notice. Martinez said Chicago Public Schools would put more details on its website.)

Some parents and students call this month “no-school November” because it traditionally brings a flurry of non-attendance days. This Friday, Nov. 5,  is a school improvement day, and students are off additional days in the month for Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and parent-teacher conference day (Nov. 17 for elementary schools and Nov. 18 for high schools). Students also have three weekdays off for Thanksgiving. 

City officials have said they are rolling out a large-scale marketing campaign around the pediatric vaccine. Rates of vaccination uptake among students age 12 and up, who have been eligible for the vaccine since May, have been low. About 47% of students ages 12-17 have received at least one dose of the vaccination as of the last week of October, compared with a citywide average of 76% among residents 18 and older.

The pediatric vaccine will be available on rotating days at four schools that are regional hubs starting next Wednesday: Michele Clark Magnet High School on the city’s West Side; Richards High School and Chicago Vocational on the city’s South Side; and Roosevelt High School on the city’s Northwest Side. Chicago Public Schools says it also will deploy the vaccine via a mobile van that travels to schools and appointments at additional school sites.

Children are eligible for a $100 gift card for getting a first dose of a vaccination at a site operated by the school district or public health department.

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