By SOPHIA TAREEN
CHICAGO (AP) _ Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students.
The nation’s third-largest district, with about 355,000 students, plans a gradual return to in-person instruction after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pre-kindergarten and some special education students can return this week or continue online learning. Students in kindergarten through 8th grade have the option Feb. 1. No date has been set for high school students’ return.
“It is our city’s first day of embarking on our path to returning to in-person learning,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Southwest Side elementary school where students wore face coverings and desks had sneeze guard barriers.
Nearly 40% of eligible students, about 77,000, expressed interest in returning, with about 6,000 students in pre-kindergarten and special education expected Monday. District officials didn’t immediately release data on how many students returned or how many teachers reported to work.
The Chicago Teachers Union has opposed reopening over safety concerns. CPS officials say teachers who don’t show up without prior approval will be punished. About 4,300 teachers and staff were expected Monday.
Union officials claim the district hasn’t done enough to protect teachers from COVID-19, proposing to continue distance learning until teachers are vaccinated.
District officials argue distance learning doesn’t work well for all, particularly many Black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. The district’s safety plan includes purchasing classroom air purifiers and a testing program.