Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss: March 20th – March 26, 2021

73% of students who opted in now showing up for in-person classes, CPS says — but vast majority remain home

By Stefano Esposito for The Chicago Sun-Times

“Chicago Public Schools on Friday released the most comprehensive figures to date on school attendance since in-person learning resumed in February, with the administration saying they are “encouraged” by the numbers although the vast majority of students remain remote. For the week of March 8 through 12 — the first week when all elementary grade levels were allowed back in classrooms — an average of 73 percent of those students who were expected to show up actually reported to schools, according to CPS. The district also said in-person attendance increased the longer schools have been open, pointing to the 55 percent of pre-K and students enrolled in cluster programs who attended in person on Feb. 11, which increased to 69 percent on March 12. That group was the first to return to in-person learning following the district-wide closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, with K-5 students returning March 1 and grades 6-8 coming back March 8.”


Chicago moves to officially start school year earlier

By Yana Kunichoff for Chalkbeat Chicago

“After soliciting feedback from families and receiving thousands of comments, Chicago plans to eschew its traditional post-Labor Day school start and instead bring back students Aug. 31 in an effort to address concerns over school disruptions caused by the pandemic. The Board of Education will vote Wednesday on the proposal. Under the new start date, teachers would return to school Aug. 18. The announcement comes as the district has extended the date for families to opt in to in-person learning for the fourth quarter, which begins April 19, as part of its staggered reopening plan. Families now have until midnight Tuesday to tell the district if they want to return to school buildings. For the first time in over a year, high school families also have that option. The district has set a target high school reopening date of Apr. 19, pending the outcome of negotiations with the teachers union.”


Chicago Public Schools to invest $24 million in student trauma and mental health programs

By Yana Kunichoff for Chalkbeat Chicago

“At North-Grand High School in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood, a team of school counselors, case managers and a social worker make up the behavioral health team charged with supporting students with low attendance, discipline issues or trouble at home. In a couple of years, every Chicago school could have a team just like it. That’s the goal of a new district initiative to train school staff in trauma-informed student support practices. Monday’s announcement of a $24 million mental health plan offers a first look at how Chicago plans to spend some of the $1.8 billion in federal stimulus funds coming its way. Officials plan to spend the money across three years to expand the number of behavioral support teams from 200 schools to closer to 500 and enlist more help from community groups through grants.”


Chicago will no longer require SAT for high school graduation in pandemic year

By Samantha Smylie for Chalkbeat Chicago

“Chicago seniors will not have to take the SAT to graduate high school this school year, according to new guidance sent to parents on late Friday. Chicago Public Schools is waiving the district’s SAT graduation requirement for current 12th graders. The district says that it will make the test available for those who have not tested yet, in case they need to send scores to colleges and universities. The district said last week that it would continue to require the SAT, even as the state board of education released seniors from the graduation requirement. District officials reversed course on Friday after parents raised concerns about testing students amid the coronavirus pandemic. The state has stated current 12th graders do not need to take the SAT to graduate. The exam will be available to high school juniors on April 13 and April 27, with a scheduled make-up date on May 18. The state has waived the essay portion of the exam. High school sophomores and first-year students will no longer have to take the PSAT this year.”

CPS pushes alternatives to police in schools, but won’t yank them yet

By Nader Issa for The Chicago Sun-Times

“Months after Chicago’s school board narrowly voted to renew a multi-million dollar contract with Chicago police that left uniformed officers in dozens of high schools, school officials are revealing alternative safety recommendations developed in partnership with community organizations. The issue of police officers patrolling public schools has been debated for years, with many students of color saying they haven’t felt safe with cops in their schools. Last year’s nationwide social justice protests in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis reignited students’ and advocates’ fight to remove officers from schools. But the Board of Education — urged by CPS leadership and Mayor Lori Lightfoot not to remove cops from all schools — ultimately voted to keep the police contract intact. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement Wednesday that the district and community groups “developed an approach that recognizes safety encompasses not only physical safety, but also emotional and relational safety as well.”


Less than half of CPS students — including 1 in 3 high schoolers — choose 4th quarter in-person learning

By Nader Issa for The Chicago Sun-Times

“Fewer than half of all CPS students and about one-third of high schoolers have chosen to return to their classrooms later this spring in their last opportunity to resume in-person learning before the fall, according to newly released district data. Those modest return rates come despite the share of students opting to return increasing from the last time officials asked families, and now including thousands of high school students for whom this was the first chance to make their preferences known. In all, 121,000 students in all grades and programs said on a survey returned earlier this week that they’re interested in returning to school, CPS said. Another 136,500 opted to continue remote learning, and 20,700 students didn’t answer the survey and will default to virtual schooling.”


CPS to start planning vaccinations for older students, officials say

By Nader Issa for The Chicago Sun-Times

“Chicago Public Schools students aged 16 and up may have a chance at a COVID-19 vaccine in the near future — though details are scarce and supply is unknown. District officials presented the latest updates in their vaccination plans at Wednesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting, including that all CPS employees are eligible for a shot at four dedicated vaccination sites hosted at high schools around the city. Dr. Kenneth Fox, the district’s medical chief, said CPS’ next steps are to educate and build trust with teachers and staff who have vaccine hesitancy, then to expand opportunities to older high school students. “While Chicago is not part of the recent statewide eligibility expansion, we’ll also work with CDPH and partner providers to begin planning vaccinations for students who are 16 or older,” Fox said.”