Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss – March 21st – March 27th, 2020

School Closures: 

CPS to buy new computers for students to use at home, ramp up e-learning during coronavirus shutdown

By Nader Issa for The Chicago Sun-Times

“Chicago Public Schools officials said Wednesday they’re planning to buy new computers for students and are on the verge of releasing a more comprehensive remote learning plan as they continue preparing for extended school closures. Up to this point, the district’s 640 schools have continued teaching in vastly different ways, though the majority are providing enrichment assignments instead of forging ahead with normal instruction. CPS’ chief education officer LaTanya McDade said at Wednesday’s monthly Board of Education meeting that the focus moving forward will be on closing the equity and technology gap between the district’s rich and poor schools.”


As coronavirus shutdown extended, CPS families brace for another month without classes: ‘It’s not just school that’s canceled’

By Hannah Leone for The Chicago Tribune

“For Bell Elementary’s upcoming production of “James and the Giant Peach,” Lisa Mauch Miranda’s seventh-grade daughter was supposed to play the mysterious old man who gives James the magic seeds. At Lane Tech College Prep, editor-in-chief Maggie Nielsen was looking forward to handing out April Fools’ Day copies of the school’s newspaper, The Warrior. All over Chicago, students are dealing with canceled college admissions exams and high-stakes tests, halted sports seasons and uncertainty about future milestones such as graduation ceremonies and prom. Schools statewide are now out through at least April 7, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Friday “stay at home” order, but Chicago Public Schools will remain closed until April 21 at the earliest — extending even longer the complete disruption of daily life. “It’s not just school that’s been canceled, it’s all of their routines,” Miranda said. Though the play the first week of May hasn’t been officially canceled yet, she said, “Even if we do go back on April 21 … I’m assuming if they can’t rehearse, they can’t perform.”


Schools FAQ: Are Statewide Standardized Tests Canceled?

By Susie An, Sarah Karp, Adriana Cardona-Maguigad, Kate McGee, Kate Grossman for WBEZ

“WBEZ is answering your questions about the coronavirus in Illinois. Have a question? Ask us here. All public and private elementary and high schools in Illinois are closed at least through at least April 7 under an order from Gov. JB Pritzker. On March 19, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago Public Schools will be closed through April 20. We’re monitoring this developing story for news that applies to families with children in school — in the greater Chicago area, primarily — so check back for updates. Parents (and students), here are answers to your pressing questions, researched and reported by WBEZ’s education team: Are statewide standardized tests canceled in Illinois? The state is working on it. The Illinois State Board of Education is seeking a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education so it doesn’t have to give any federally required tests this spring.”


So far, school days lost to the Illinois coronavirus shutdown don’t have to be made up. But how long can that continue?

By Hannah Leone for the Chicago Tribune

“When Illinois schools shut down last week to slow the spread of coronavirus, the mandated days without classroom instruction were deemed “act of God” days, meaning they won’t have to be made up. But now that the statewide school closure has been extended at least through April 7 — and some local districts, including Chicago Public Schools, are staying shut even longer — education officials are faced with the question of how long that scenario can continue. In other words, schools would have to find ways to deliver lessons remotely that are effective but also equitable, meaning students who lack an internet connection or other access won’t be left behind.”


Meal Distribution: 

CPS hands out over 500K meals in 3 days of coronavirus closures: ‘This is something great Chicago’s doing for us’

By Nader Issa for the Chicago Sun-Times

“So far, CPS has handed out almost 90,000 meal packages, which each include three days’ worth of breakfast and lunch, for a total of more than a half-million meals. “It’s very good of CPS to do this and give people this opportunity,” Herrera said. “I hope a lot of people are taking advantage of it.” “This is an amazing help,” Gonzalez said of the meals. “This is something great Chicago’s doing for us.”

Family Support: 

‘We Can’t Afford To Have Him Left Behind’: Special Ed Students Struggle During School Shutdown

By Sarah Karp for WBEZ

“We can’t afford to have him left behind,” said Townsend, who lives in the South Chicago neighborhood on the South Side. “I know how it feels to be a parent and a student that got left behind, and I don’t want that for anyone else.” Since Chicago Public Schools closed last week, the question of how students should be educated during the shutdown has loomed. Intertwined with this is the more complicated question of what can and should be done for students with special needs.”

Chicago weighing whether to offer free childcare to hospital workers, first-responders at schools

By Nader Issa and Lauren FitzPatrick for the Chicago Sun-Times

“Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is considering providing free childcare for healthcare workers and first-responders at schools, park district facilities and day cares that are near hospitals. While plans are still tentative, they could involve public workers, including teachers, voluntarily working six-hour shifts caring for no more than 10 children in a single room at a select number of locations, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times. It wasn’t clear how much demand there would be from healthcare workers and first-responders for the service, or if any proposal would actually come to fruition.”

Family & Teacher Experiences: 

West Side High Schoolers Launch Podcast To Stay Connected, Informed During COVID-19 CPS Shutdown

By Pascal Sabino for Block Club Chicago

“A new podcast started by West Side high schoolers aims to connect — and inform —Chicago Public Schools students stuck at home during the COVID-19 crisis. As the public health crisis escalated last week, students at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School, 5101 W. Harrison St., decided to produce a podcast focused on keeping students connected and managing their stress during these uncertain times. “I’m really excited because it is student-led,” said Principal Charles Anderson. “What was great about it is that it was students having conversations with each other, coming from their peers, which would be really powerful.”


This video of Chicago teachers and students singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” gives us joy

By Cassie Walker Burke  for Chalkbeat

“The video features wigs, sunglasses, and spirited falsettos; dance breaks, piano riffs, and even a principal hitting a high note.  Compiled by a Nicholas Senn High School journalism teacher using a spreadsheet, mobile phone videos, and editing software, the video shows more than a dozen teachers and students singing “Sennhemian Rhapsody” — a riff on the 1975 song “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. It has rapidly made the rounds on social media in Chicago, an example of how schools are still trying to build community despite strict stay-at-home orders, school closures, device shortages, and districtwide rules that, in the district of 355,100 students, strictly govern how teachers communicate with students.  Michael Cullinane, the journalism teacher, said he wanted to do something “fun and irreverent” that would appeal to the diverse group of students he teaches at the Edgewater high school. “I’m a big advocate for, in times of difficulty, trying to keep community at the forefront,” said Cullinane, who is juggling work and child care of two children under 4 during the stay-at-home order. He wanted to do something for his school community that would bridge students and teachers, and he had observed low student participation in online activities during the first week of school.”


Rebuilding Classroom Communities Means Getting Connected in Every Way Possible

By Shayla Ewing for Chicago Unheard

“This is what my classroom looks like now: Twenty video squares light up my screen, Brady Bunch style. Each vignette holds a teenage student, encapsulated in their own world. One strokes a golden retriever, one lounges in pink-spotted pajamas, another chases a little brother out of frame.  At the end of our meeting time, the girl in the pink pajamas murmurs, “I don’t feel alone right now.” “I don’t feel alone right now either,” I confess back. Amid a jumble of goodbyes and I’ll-miss-yous, I press “end meeting,” and, all too abruptly, their faces blink away and are replaced with the silence of my kitchen and the knowledge of my distance from them. In a dash from classroom to website, too many of us are focusing on online curriculum and leaving classroom emotional and social support on the side. Regardless of the curriculum, the closing of school doors and the opening of laptops have caused a universal pain of disconnection. In a time of self-quarantine, e-learning should not be used to solely facilitate the manufacturing of learning outcomes, but the connecting of our communities.”