Yesterday, city leaders announced plans to reopen Chicago Public Schools after winter break. The current CPS reopening plan is for students in pre-k and special education cluster programs to return January 11. Students in grades K-8 could join them in school buildings on February 1. All families will be able to continue remote learning if they prefer. Elementary and middle school families should receive intent-to-return surveys next week.
The announcement came the same day Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that Illinois will roll back to Phase 3 on Friday, closing indoor service at bars and restaurants.
Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez, a frequent critic of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, asked the obvious questions:
Parents had more and tougher questions. This CPS mom wanted to know more about how the district would decide what level of community spread could permit a safe return.
CPS has changed its public criteria related to reopening. Back in the summer, city leaders said a 7-day average of case numbers would guide their decisions. Now the district says they will add another metric to their calculus: the speed at which the number of newly diagnosed cases double. Currently, cases are doubling every 12 days; a better sign would be if it took 18 days for cases to double.
While recent research suggests schools are not sites of high viral spread, the greater the amount of community spread, the less prudent it is to have any groups congregate. Chicago’s overall test positivity average is now 16%, but neighborhoods on the Southwest Side are seeing test positivity rates near 25%. Thus, no matter what the CPS reopening plan says on paper, we’ll need to see a hefty drop in Covid cases before kids return to school.