Chicago Public Schools to Begin School Year with Full Remote Learning Model Based on Public Health Guidance and Parent Feedback

CPS Will Begin the School Year on September 8 with a Full Remote Learning Model With All Students Receiving Real-Time Instruction Every School Day; District Will Assess a Switch to an In-Person Hybrid Learning Model For the Second Academic Quarter

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today announced that the 2020-21 CPS school year will begin remotely on September 8 based on trends in public health data and survey results from parents which indicate that a large percentage of parents are not yet comfortable sending their children to school. Chicago has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks that has public health officials concerned about the implications for in-person learning. The district will implement remote learning through the first quarter and work with CDPH to determine if it is safe to open with a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, which begins on November 9.

“The decision to begin the 2020-2021 CPS school year remotely during the first quarter is rooted in public health data and the invaluable feedback we’ve received from parents and families,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “As we build out this remote learning model and seek to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, we will continue to support and collaborate with parents and school leaders to create safe, sustainable learning environments for our students.”

The district had committed to providing parents with an update about whether or not it would pursue a hybrid learning model by the end of August at the latest. Based on the feedback CPS has received from parents since the district’s preliminary reopening framework was released and due to public health trends in recent days, we are announcing the decision so schools and parents have as much time as possible to plan for the fall.

“As a district, we value parent feedback and we cannot overlook that a large percentage of parents have indicated they do not feel comfortable sending their students to school under a hybrid model for the start of the school year,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. “I understand the uncertainty this pandemic has caused our parents, especially communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted. We are making every possible effort to provide a high-quality remote learning experience in the fall, utilizing live, virtual instruction for every student, every day, and we are committed to ongoing engagement and communication with parents.”

“While Chicago remains in a better place than many other regions of the country as far as containing the virus and these recent trends are very concerning,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “This was a difficult decision and we very much hope to be able to move to a hybrid model for the next quarter as there is so much value to in-person learning.”

Following the Guidance of Public Health Officials
Following steady and significant declines in COVID cases and deaths from the peak of the pandemic three months ago, Chicago has experienced increases in recent weeks in two important measures in particular: percent positivity (the percentage of COVID tests that have a positive result), which is approaching 5 percent based on a 7-day rolling average, and the daily case rate. That rate, also based on a 7-day rolling average, was under 200 one month ago but has risen steadily since and was at an average of 273 on Tuesday, with several individual days of well over 300 cases reported. Based on this data, CDPH believes that COVID-19 transmission is trending in a direction where it would not be advisable to open our buildings on September 8. Rather than waiting until the end of August, it was determined that the best course of action was making the announcement now so parents and families have ample time to plan.

Responding to Feedback From Families
Since releasing the preliminary reopening framework, the district received more than 87,000 unique survey responses from educators, parents, and students. After reviewing the survey results as of August 1, tens of thousands of families (41 percent of elementary school parents and 38 percent of high school parents) indicated that they do not intend to send their children to school. Only approximately 20 percent of African American and Latinx parents at both the high school and elementary school levels indicated they would plan to send their children to school, and the district is acting on that feedback to offer an improved remote learning experience for all students when the school year begins.

Enhanced Standards for Remote Learning and Digital Learning for All Students
In order to provide a more stable and high-quality remote learning experience for students, the district will be enacting new requirements for learning that go beyond ISBE guidance, including ensuring every K-12 teacher and student will be engaged for the entirety of the school day, with students receiving real-time instruction every day. Additionally, all students will have access to and participate in digital learning. Key improvements to remote learning include: 

Learning Expectations:

  • Every K-12 student and teacher will be engaged for the entirety of a typical school day, with live instruction every school day.
  • Pre-k students will also receive live instruction, but given the unique needs of our youngest learners, more time and focus will be spent on small group interaction and parental support.

Transition to District-Wide Usage of Google Suites:

  • All schools will utilize Google education tools — including Google Classroom or Meet on a daily basis — to ensure the district can accurately track and support engagement.  
  • Schools will also be able to use approved non-Google ed-tech tools that meet the district’s acceptable use policy, but teachers and students will be expected to log onto Google on a daily basis for a home-room style check-in and utilize Google for live video instruction.

Tracking Attendance and Grading: 

  • To align with ISBE guidance and create learning environments that more closely align with a typical school year, the district will be transitioning back to our previous grading system where assignments will be graded and all students will receive letter grades.
  • In a shift from the spring, schools will also be taking classroom attendance to ensure  every effort is being made to engage students. Schools will enact intervention systems to support students who do not participate in remote learning to help address underlying concerns and ensure students are being supported. 

The district is finalizing additional plans to best support students with special needs and English Learners and updates will be provided to parents on an ongoing basis. The district will also be releasing a final reopening framework which will include additional details on remote learning. Principals and educators will receive training on new expectations prior to the start of the school year. 

“The district has learned critical lessons from this spring and we are prepared to implement an improved remote learning model in the fall that best meets the academic and social-emotional needs of students,” said CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya D. Mcdade. “We will continue to work with parents, school leaders and educators to ensure the district is providing the highest-quality learning experience possible.”

Continuing to Increase Access to Devices and Internet to Students
As part of any remote or hybrid learning model, access to devices and the internet are critical for learning at home. In the spring, the district distributed approximately 128,000 computing devices and will continue to work with schools to identify and provide computing devices to any student who still needs them. To support this effort, the district will distribute an additional 36,000 new computing devices to students, and support schools as they disseminate any remaining devices they received from graduating students. The district will continue to assess the need and is prepared to make additional purchases as needed to ensure all students have access to computing devices.  At the end of last school year, schools were instructed to have non-graduating students (students not in grades 8 or 12) keep their devices for the summer and following school year.

Additionally, through Chicago Connected, the district is extending hotspot coverage for Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) and expanding free, high-speed internet access to approximately 100,000 CPS students. Letters, emails and individual follow up calls have been made to eligible families and additional outreach will remain ongoing. Chicago Connected recently selected 35 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to support outreach activities, provide newly-connected households with digital literacy resources, and connect households to additional services.

Looking Ahead: Releasing Final Guidance for Q1 and Preparing for Possibility of Hybrid Learning Model for Q2

In consultation with CDPH, the district will prepare for the possibility of reopening with a hybrid in-person model for the second academic quarter, which begins on November 9. Following an extensive community engagement and feedback process, the district will also be releasing the final reopening guidance this week, which will outline additional details.

While the final framework will contain critical details about remote learning, the district and schools will be in contact with parents with key updates and information as we lead up to the start of school. Free grab-and-go meals will continue to be available to families across the city, and additional information about available resources and services will be communicated.

Chicago Public Schools serves 355,000 students in 642 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school district.