Chicago Parents Are Stressed Out About in-Person Learning for School Kids

  • Chicago schools closed on Wednesday after the teachers’ union voted to pivot to remote learning.
  • Parents are in limbo as it remains unclear whether public schools will be in person or not.
  • Being in the dark about future school procedures is inconvenient and scary, parents told Insider.

Chicago schools closed for the day on Wednesday after the teachers’ union voted to pivot to remote learning — and now parents aren’t sure whether classes will even be held in the next coming days.

Parents of students in the Chicago Public Schools — the third-largest district in the US — told Insider they’re stressed out because they don’t know whether there will be classes. And if there are classes, it’s not clear whether they’ll be remote or in person. The uncertainty has left them without answers and unable to adequately plan their days. And the prospect of in-person learning is scary, they said.

Rachael H., a mother of three kids enrolled in CPS schools, said she kept her third-grader home on Monday when schools reopened for in-person learning after the holiday break. That same day, she said, there was a COVID-19 exposure and her child’s 30 other classmates who showed up had to quarantine and learn remotely the next day. On Tuesday, her third-grader showed up to school, and “it was a total of her and one other student in the classroom,” Rachael said.

“But her and another child were in the school,” Rachael said. “And then she told me that she had to have lunch with a whole nother classroom because her teacher had to go out for lunch. So that means she’s being exposed again to another set of students, just for her to have a lunch break.”

Government officials have been urging schools nationwide to conduct in-person learning after the winter break, but the spread of Omicron has complicated that effort. While schools shifted from completely remote to hybrid or in-person learning environments as vaccines became more commonplace — and nearly 63% of the total population fully vaccinated against the coronavirus — the highly contagious variant has led to a surge in cases, worsening staff shortages that have plagued US school systems.

school gate with sign


Closed school in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 5, 2022.


Chicago Public Schools has a 2.7% teacher vacancy rate, a district spokesperson said in an email to Insider. On January 3, the school system had a teacher attendance rate of 82%, leaving school administrators scrambling to cover classes. There’s an ongoing search for substitute teachers, the spokesperson said.

The spread of the variant has alarmed teachers. An overwhelming majority — 88% — of the Chicago Teachers’ Union on Tuesday announced that it would vote for all public schools in the city to return to remote learning, arguing that classroom conditions are unsafe for children and faculty.

“To the parents and guardians of this city, we want you to know that when you put your children in our care we put their well-being and safety first,” a union statement read. “We fight for your children like they are our own, because they are.”

The union’s position runs counter to the message coming from city officials. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has taken a stance in favor of in-person learning, arguing that it provides better educational benefits for children and less stress on parents who’d otherwise be forced to look after their kids during the daytime.

On Wednesday, CPS teachers were seemingly locked out of digital classrooms so as to not carry out remote learning, Gizmodo reported.

‘Just waiting until the last minute is unacceptable’

Rachael, a social worker who works from home, said she’d rather her children learn remotely while there’s a significant viral threat. She said she hasn’t been informed of the plans, and it feels like the school district is operating on a whim.

“When these positivity rate numbers go up, they need to take precautions to just have the remote learning until the numbers can go down,” Rachael said. “Just waiting until the last minute is unacceptable.”

Parents often don’t know what’s happening until just hours before school is scheduled to open, according to Valeisha Manning, a mother of three children who are enrolled at CPS. The school district, for example, informed her that it would be closed on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. CPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking about the times at which parents are notified of the next day’s status.

students seated in classroom


US classroom

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Not knowing whether classes will be remote or in-person is inconvenient, partly because parents may have to make arrangements to pick up equipment so their children can learn from home productively.

Rachael, for example, would have to retrieve Chromebooks from the school for each of her three children. Other parents would likely not be able to do that on such quick notice.

“There are parents who don’t have the ability to go and just pick up devices,” Rachael said.

And if officials do decide on in-person learning, it can be scary for parents to send their kids to school, said Manning and Rachael, both adding that they’ve seen videos of mask-less students clustered close together on school grounds.

“I know they need to be amongst their peers for social development, I understand that,” Manning said. “But there’s no social development that comes to a dead child or a sick child or a child that’s in ICU.”

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