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Reopening Letter

Dear CPS Families,

We know that the best place for your child to learn is in the classroom, and we have been working tirelessly to prepare our buildings to welcome students and staff back to school. Following the guidance of our public health officials, we are planning to begin opening our school buildings for families who choose to return following winter break. Students enrolled in pre-k and moderate and intensive cluster programs will have the option to return on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, and students in K-8 will be able to return on Monday, Feb. 1. High school students who learn in general education settings will continue learning at home, and we will continue to evaluate options for a return to in-person learning for those students in 2021.

To prepare for the safe return to school buildings, families of children who are eligible to return will be contacted later this month to understand their preferred learning setting following winter break.

Tentative timeline for returning to school based on public health conditions and guidance

Week

Staff

Families

November 23, 2020

Intent-to-return form sent to K-8 staff.

Educator Guidance released

Opt-in form sent to all families of students in Pre-K-8 and cluster programs. Please note that families who responded to the survey in October do not need to re-submit if their preference has not changed.

Parent Handbook released

December 7, 2020

Intent-to-return deadline for K-8 staff

Opt-in form submission deadline

January 4, 2021

Pre-K and cluster program staff return

 

January 11, 2021

 

Students in pre-k and cluster programs return

January 25, 2021

K-8 staff return

 

February 1, 2021

 

K-8 students return

According to public health data, schools can be open safely

While COVID-19 remains an incredibly serious threat to our community, the public health data in Chicago and across the nation show that schools are rarely a source of COVID-19 transmission. With this new understanding of COVID-19, we must challenge the assumption that school buildings must stay closed and do everything we can to bring students back to school.

Although COVID-19 cases are rising in many areas, numerous states in the U.S. and countries in Europe are keeping schools open because mitigation strategies have proven to be successful. Today, Governor Pritzker moved Illinois to Tier 3 of the Restore Illinois Mitigation Plan beginning this Friday, Nov. 20, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. While our schools can continue to operate because they play an essential role in the lives of students and families and are not a significant source of viral transmission, high school sports including practices and competitions will be paused until further notice. 

Getting students into schools at an early age is arguably the most consequential intervention in our toolbox to boost their long-term academic success, career prospects, and lifetime earnings. This year, however, enrollment in pre-k plummeted 44 percent among Black students and 29 percent among Latinx students. As a matter of equity, this is simply unacceptable.

And pre-k students are far from the only ones who need our help. Due to the immense burden placed on parents to support home-based learning, we have also seen attendance plummet among our students with significant needs. In a recent survey, more than five thousand families told us they wanted to come back to school because online learning was simply not working for their child.

CDC 5 Key Migration Strategies for COVID-19 Transmission

CDC 5 Key Mitigation Strategies for COVID-19 Transmission

  1. Consistent and correct use of masks
  2. Social distancing to the largest extent possible
  3. Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  4. Cleaning and disinfection
  5. Contact tracing in collaboration with local health department

School buildings will look different

Schools will look and feel very different when teachers and students return. To support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s five key strategies for mitigating COVID-19 transmission, schools will take the following safety measures:

  1. Anyone entering a school building for more than 10 minutes will be required to complete a health screener before coming to school to ensure they are free of COVID-19 symptoms and to support the Chicago Department of Public Health’s contact tracing efforts. 
    • Students and staff who are symptomatic or have had close contact with someone who tested positive will not be allowed to enter the building and will be provided access to free COVID-19 tests through either established primary care providers or city partners.
  2. Anyone entering a school building will also have their temperature checked and be required to wear a face covering, which the district will provide for every student and staff member.
  3. Signs have been installed throughout the building to help students socially distance, and desks and classroom furniture will be spaced further apart.
  4. Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout the building to help everyone practice good hand hygiene.
  5. Classrooms have been cleaned from top to bottom and facilities staff members will implement an enhanced cleaning routine.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, every classroom will have a HEPA air purifier that will remove 99.99% of airborne mold, bacteria, and viruses. By placing a HEPA air purifier directly in the classroom near students and staff, we can better capture particles, clean the air, and reduce the risk of indoor transmission of viruses and bacteria.

We also hired independent state-certified environmental specialists to test schools for indoor air quality, and classrooms have been checked to ensure they are properly ventilated and meet ASHRAE’s standards. Families can check the status of their child’s classroom by visiting cps.edu/airquality.

Help flatten the curve this holiday season so schools can reopen in the new year

We hope that we will be able to welcome back students beginning in January, but we must continue taking all necessary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, especially during the holiday season. We urge everyone to follow Chicago’s stay-at-home advisory, avoid travel, and limit holiday gatherings to only those in your households. The sooner we flatten the curve, the sooner all students will be able to return to school. 

While the science is clear that school can proceed safely with mitigations like the ones we have implemented, CDPH is closely watching the citywide growth in cases — as determined by the amount of time it takes for case counts to double — because case growth can disrupt educational activities as more staff and students need to isolate due to exposure outside of school. For that reason, CDPH has determined that in order for schools to reopen, the length of time over which cases double will need to extend by at least a 50 percent, which will indicate that the outbreak is stabilizing and the curve is flattening. In Chicago, that will mean moving from the city’s current doubling rate of 12 days to at least 18 days by the time classes begin.

We thank you for your patience as we work closely with public health officials to reopen schools safely. We wish you a happy, healthy holiday season and will continue communicating regularly about our plan to reopen Chicago’s schools in early 2021. 

Sincerely,

Janice Signature

LaTanya Signature

Janice K. Jackson, EdD
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Public Schools

LaTanya D. McDade
Chief Education Officer
Chicago Public Schools