Vaughn HS LSC calls for in-person learning delay; most students not expected at Vaughn on Jan. 11 but some area grammar schools could have 75 percent back on Feb. 1
by BRIAN NADIG
In-person learning is scheduled to start Monday, Jan. 11, at Vaughn Occupational High School, 4355 N. Linder Ave., but as many as 80 percent of its 220 students may not be in attendance as most families have opted to continue with remote learning.
“My son understands the routine now and what is expected. What happens if there is a outbreak?” said Vaughn local school council parent member Catherine Henchek. “In the spring remote learning was a mess, but they have it together now. … We want consistency. Let’s keep it going until it’s safe.”
The LSC at its Dec. 29 meeting approved a resolution calling for the school to open “only remotely after winter break” and to delay in-person learning until it is safe and there has been proper input from all members of the school community, including parents, teachers and the administration. The resolution is only advisory in nature.
LSC parent member Nancy Bender said that the sooner there can be a collaborative dialogue on how and when to safely reopen Vaughn, the better for all. She said that some parents have been juggling work obligations and the supervision of their children during remote learning for months.
Vaughn, a special needs high school, was the first school in Chicago to have a confirmed case of coronavirus in March.
Under the reopening plan at Vaughn, groups of four to six students will be in the same classroom with the same teacher throughout the day, but that teacher will not be instructing them because multiple grades will be represented in each grouping, according to Bender.
“They may not even be with a teacher that they even know. … They’ll be doing Google Classroom (on a tablet) like at home,” Bender said. “I want my child to return when it is a normal school day.”
An increasing number of families are opting out of in-person learning at Vaughn as they learn more details, Bender said.
“It’s not clear to me how they’re going to handle bathrooms and lunch,” Henchek said, adding that popular activities such basketball will not be available.
The school system should consider delaying its reopening plans until the vaccine is available for staff and students, and the number of coronavirus cases in the city experiences a significant drop, Henchek said.
“If your’e going to say it’s safe for our children, why isn’t it safe for all?” Henchek said.
The school system is starting in-person learning on a phased basis, with pre-kindergarten students and those in moderate to intensive cluster programs the first to return. The option of returning will then be extended to all elementary school students on Feb. 1, but no return plans have been announced for the general high school population.
Cluster programs serve students who require a significantly modified curriculum due to their disabilities and who are separated from their general education peers for more than 61 percent of the school day.
At Taft High School, 10 cluster program students are eligible to return next week, but only three are planning to do so, according to Taft principal Mark Grishaber said. One teacher and several aides are returning to work with the cluster students, he said.
(The Taft LSC at its virtual meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6, is scheduled to discuss a possible resolution on the return of teachers to the school building.)
School system officials have said that the cluster students are among the most vulnerable in the system and that it is important to get them back to in-person instruction as soon as possible. The officials also have said that thousands of private school children have been receiving in-school instruction for months with few problems.
On the Far Northwest Side, several elementary schools could have most of their students back in the classroom on Feb. 1, based on the data collected by CPS. Norwood Park, Edgebrook and Oriole Park schools are expected to have about 75 percent of their students in the classroom, while the anticipated in-person rate is expected to be significantly reduced in some lower-income neighborhoods.
The Chicago Teachers Union has been opposing the return to in-school learning, and teachers can seek permission to continue to work remotely, although those who do not receive a waiver could face discipline for not returning to their school. About half of the teachers who were supposed to report to their schools on Jan. 4 reportedly did not show up for work.
In addition, 32 aldermen have signed a letter expressing concerns about the planned return to in-person learning, calling for a detailed testing and contact-tracing plan for the schools. Those singing the letter include aldermen Ariel Reboyras (30th), Gilbert Villegas (36th), Nick Sposato (38th), Samantha Nugent (39th), Jim Gardiner (45th) and Deb Silverstein (50th).