Jan 3, 2022 - COVID

Chicago's back to school amid COVID spikes

School in winter with sign in front.
Officials at CPS and the CTU remain at odds over the safety of returning to school Monday. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Chicago Public Schools are scheduled to fully reopen this morning even as school districts in Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Seattle, Atlanta, Madison, Gary and Evanston have either delayed opening or opted to start the winter semester with remote-learning due to unprecedented COVID-19 spikes.

Why it matters: Chicago is currently seeing record numbers of infections and pediatric COVID hospitalizations.

  • Only 12% of CPS elementary school students and 51% of high school students are vaccinated.
  • Hundreds of thousands of CPS students are exposed to one another every weekday as they eat unmasked in the lunchroom.
  • While a third of CPS students were given tests to take before returning to school, the process has run into multiple problems. As of Sunday night, officials tell Axios they did not know how many were successfully processed.

What they're saying: At a Thursday press conference, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said he was "very comfortable" with students returning to school.

  • "We will continue to monitor and investigate cases, and we will promptly switch a classroom, or a school, to remote learning status if necessary to prevent in-school COVID-19 transmission," CPS wrote in a statement to Axios.

The other side: The Chicago Teachers Union reiterated its demands over the weekend for CPS to require negative PCR tests for returning students, expand testing sites, provide high-quality masks to staff and students and honor the metrics CPS agreed to last winter that trigger a switch to remote learning.

  • "We shouldn't have to fight to pressure the mayor to put our lives ahead of our livelihoods, but that is the reality we face," CTU president Jesse Sharkey wrote in a note to members.

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