Safely Reopening Chicago Schools for In-Person Learning

February 03, 2021


By Rochelle Davis, President + CEO

As Chicago Public Schools (CPS) finalizes its plans to reopen schools for in-person learning, we want to share HSC’s thoughts on the district’s reopening plan and our recommendations to the district for greater transparency in key areas — and emphasize the need for federal, state and local leadership to prioritize schools above all else if safe, in-person learning is to happen during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re also excited to provide a new HSC resource for parents and caregivers.

Position on Reopening

Healthy Schools Campaign knows that the decision to reopen in-person learning across CPS elementary and middle schools is complex and requires trust, communication and transparency in order to be effective and safe. To that end, we strongly encourage the school district and the Chicago Teachers Union to continue to work together — in collaboration with public health experts, administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students —  to develop a plan that supports students and families, is accountable and transparent, and is responsive to the very real health concerns identified by teachers and their families. 

In January, HSC sent a letter to CPS CEO Jackson and CPS Board President del Valle recommending more detailed guidance and greater transparency regarding the following:

  • CPS’ criteria for reopening: CPS guidance does not fully detail the criteria it has used to determine when it will reopen schools and keep schools open for in-person learning.
  • Public disclosure of rates of COVID by school:  While the CPS website provides aggregate data on the number of COVID cases by schools by week, the information per individual school only shows information about the number of cases per quarter. It will be important for the local school community to have this information on at least a weekly basis.
  • More information about ventilation: One of the most important elements of any infection control strategy is proper ventilation. Most experts define this as achieving 4-6 air changes per hour of ‘clean’ air through any combination of ventilation and filtration. CPS needs to provide the public with information about what standard is being used for determining if proper ventilation for filtering COVID particles in the air has been achieved in each individual school building, the date of the review for each building, the plan for ensuring the proper maintenance of the air filtration standard and/or plans for retesting. 

In addition, HSC recommended that the district share more guidance around outdoor learning and bathroom protocol.

While the CDC has recently updated its guidance to more strongly support in-person instruction, and the agency emphasizes the relative safety of this course of action, the CDC recommendation is highly dependent on the specific conditions at the school, district and community levels. 

A robust vaccination, testing and contact tracing protocol is essential to creating safe conditions for schools to safely reopen for in-person learning, and this requires strong leadership at the federal, state and city level. The federal government must play an important role in providing school districts with the necessary resources to reopen in-person learning in a way that supports the health of students, teachers and all school staff. Congress must take immediate action to ensure that local school districts have the necessary funds to do this safely. In addition, state and local public officials must make difficult decisions about what businesses should reopen if the resumption of in-person learning is a top priority.

HSC is strongly committed to the health and wellness of students, teachers and all school staff. We want schools to reopen and firmly believe that a robust plan that implements best practices, and emphasizes partnership, trust, transparency and a citywide commitment to prioritizing the reopening of schools, must be in place in order for that to happen. While HSC fervently hopes that Chicago will not see another teachers’ strike in less than two years, we firmly believe that teachers have a right to strike under certain conditions and respect the right of organized labor to strike when legal and appropriate.

Resources for School Stakeholders

HSC has been providing resources for parents, school staff and school stakeholders across the country as school has taken place in-person, in remote settings and through hybrid models. This week, HSC released In-Person Learning Resources for Parents and Caregivers at Chicago Public Schools, a new resource for CPS parents and caregivers on questions they will want to ask and information they should expect to receive regarding their schools’ reopening preparedness.