In March, we made the difficult decision to close our school buildings in order to keep our communities safe and slow the spread of COVID-19. In the ensuing months, our educators completely transformed how they provide instruction; our students gave up proms, athletics, and graduations; and parents supported their children in more ways than ever before. Our shared sacrifices helped flatten the curve in our state and allowed us to seriously evaluate reopening schools in the fall. Today, we are sharing a preliminary reopening framework that is aligned to the strongest guidance from public health officials and will help us prepare to reopen schools if it is safe to do so on September 8.
Our preliminary framework is rooted in science and was developed in accordance with guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Illinois State Board of Education.
We’ve heard from families that they are eager to resume their child’s education but in a manner that minimizes the health risks posed by COVID-19. To strike this fine balance, we are proposing to begin the 2020–21 school year with a hybrid learning model where students will learn at school and at home. This hybrid model allows students to follow proper social distancing guidelines by effectively cutting the number of students in a classroom by half and ensuring students can access high-quality in-person instruction from caring teachers. And because our public health situation continues to evolve, our framework is designed to adapt to changing public health conditions and can easily transition to full at-home learning should COVID-19 cases begin to rise.
A flexible plan to meet the needs of students and staff
While we intend to open classrooms if it is safe to do so, we also understand that some families will prefer to keep their children home. In recognition of the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and the need for flexibility, every parent will have the option to have their child learn from home full time. And staff with medical or caretaking needs will have their leave of absence or accommodation requests addressed through procedures that will be communicated later this month.
Social distancing will be critical to keeping students and educators safe
Students will be assigned to pods of approximately 15 students and, along with a designated group of teachers, will stay together for as long as the hybrid learning model is in place. This pod model reduces potential viral transmission, allows us to conduct rapid contact tracing, and reduces the potential for disrupting learning for the school community if a case of COVID-19 is identified.
In order to ensure proper social distancing, the majority of K–10 students will split their time between learning at home and learning at school. Students will learn at school with their teacher, and they will use their time learning at home to complete assignments and access digital curriculum. Under a 2-1-2 hybrid schedule model, each student pod will spend the same two consecutive days each week learning at school, the same two days learning independently at home, and each Wednesday they will participate in real-time virtual instruction with their classroom teacher. This model will allow students, staff, and families to maintain a stable weekly schedule while affording educators necessary time to plan for various instructional needs.
We’re differentiating the amount of in-person instruction students will receive based on their age and developmental learning needs. Pre-K students will go to school every day while high school juniors and seniors will learn at home due to the complexity of their schedules and the inability to maintain small, stable pods when schedules differ to such a great degree. Diverse learners, English Learners, students in Career and Technical Education programs that need access to specific resources, and high school juniors and seniors who need additional academic and social and emotional support will be prioritized for in-person instruction based on the capacity of each school.
School buildings will look different this fall
It is clear that school will feel different this year. Following public health guidance, school buildings will welcome half of their normal student body into the building on any given day. Staff and students will complete daily symptom screeners before coming to school, have their temperatures taken before entering the building, and wear face coverings. Students will come to school for only a few days a week.
Supporting these measures requires a considerable investment, which we are fully committed to making. To ensure the safest possible learning environments, we have purchased more than 1.2 million reusable cloth face masks to support every student and staff member, 42,000 hand sanitizer dispensers, more than 40,000 containers of disinfectant wipes, 22,000 infrared thermometers, medical-grade disinfectant sprayers, and additional PPE for specialty roles. We’re also hiring approximately 400 additional custodians to help carry out stringent cleaning and disinfection protocols every day in every school.
We will prioritize the social-emotional wellbeing of our students
Our reopening framework goes far beyond academics. It prioritizes the social-emotional needs of our students, many of whom have experienced trauma from the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and the demonstrations in our country following the murder of George Floyd. Easing our students’ anxiety and building supportive learning environments will be critical to their success this coming school year. Beginning in August, we will offer additional mental health interventions and supports, introduce grief curriculum, expand small group trauma interventions, and introduce classroom-based activities for managing stress and anxiety.
Our reopening framework honors our commitment to equity
To follow through on the equity promise set forth in our Five-Year Vision, Success Starts Here, our reopening framework also takes into account the unique needs of our most vulnerable populations, including our English Learners and students with diverse learning needs. We are working on a plan to bring many of these students back into the classroom during all in-person instructional days, and we remain committed to providing all children with the supports and resources they will need to be successful during this challenging time.
In the coming weeks, the district will be finalizing our plans for implementing a high-quality hybrid learning model. We need your input on how best to resume school in a responsible manner. Please review the reopening framework and complete the reopening survey by July 31, 2020. Following an extensive public engagement period, we will release our final plan for the reopening of schools during the first week of August. And in late August, when we will have greater clarity on the public health situation at the time school is about to begin, we will make a final determination about whether we can welcome students back into school buildings a few days a week or have students learn-at-home full time.
Despite this new reality, we are confident in the ability of our educators, families, and partners to work together to provide all CPS students with a robust, high-quality education.
It will take all of us working together to make this school year a success and uphold necessary health and safety protocols in our schools. Everyone can help ensure schools are able to safely reopen in the fall by continuing to practice social distancing, wearing masks, and following the latest guidance from our public health officials. We hope you will unite with us in these efforts. Your feedback will be critical to the success of our reopening plan. We value your partnership and look forward to hearing from you in the coming weeks.
Janice K. Jackson, EdD
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Public Schools
LaTanya D. McDade
Chief Education Officer
Chicago Public Schools