About half of Taft students ready to return to school
by BRIAN NADIG
Up to half of the 3,960 students at Taft High School are expected to return for in-school instruction if schools fully reopen as scheduled on Monday, April 19, but hundreds already have been on campus this year for athletics.
Principal Mark Grishaber said that the number of students opting to return for in-school classes is 1,939, which includes students at both the varsity campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., and the freshman campus at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. He added that the actual number in attendance may be somewhat lower given that those opting in will be permitted to reverse course and stay home, while under the current rules those opting out will not be allowed to switch.
System wide about 36 percent of high school students reportedly have indicated they plan to return for in-person learning. That percentage does not include those special needs students who already are in school.
The Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union reportedly are negotiating the details of how high schools will reopen, with the targeted date being April 19. Students would be in school two days a week and have remote learning the other days.
At the March 9 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council, a group of parents said that remote learning is negatively impacting the mental health of students. “It’s been really brutal,” a parent told the council. “How can we reopen the high schools? We have only 90 days left (of the school year).”
Parent LSC member Chris Raguso echoed the concerns.
“The CDC report is clear. Why aren’t high schools open?” she said.
After the meeting, Grishaber said that 145 students signed up for football this year, compared to about 75 to 80 players when he became principal at Taft in 2014. Due to the pandemic, football was delayed until the spring, and Taft played its first game on March 27, an overtime win against Lane Tech at the Taft stadium, which opened in 2019.
Grishaber said he suspects that the high demand for Taft sports comes from the hard work put in by coaches.
“We talk about how good our school is (academically) first and then we talk about (sports),” he said.
Taft home sporting events are being streamed online and the school system may soon start allowing up to three family members per player to attend games, Grishaber said. A link is on the school’s Web site at at www.tafthighschool.org.
Close to 700 student athletes have returned for practices or games in recent months, and in a typical year about 1,900 students participate in a sport or activity such as cheerleading, Grishaber said.
In other news, Taft’s projected enrollment for the 2021-22 school year is 4,250, while the enrollment is expected to level off at about 4,400 the following year, when Taft could surpass Lane Tech as the most populated high school in Chicago and become the third largest in the state, according to Grishaber.
It also was reported that drama classes would no longer be offered at the Taft Freshman Academy. Grishaber said that it is difficult for new students to take 4 years of drama due to all of the core academic requirements but that Drama Club will be available for freshmen. “We have to get kids to take their requirements early,” he said. Drama classes would still be offered at the varsity campus.
Teacher Jonathan Cohen said that he hopes the decision can be revisited. “I ask that it be a temporary move,” he said.
Also the meeting, Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said that he plans to address concerns about the recently constructed path between the parking lot for the Chicago Park District’s Dunning sports field at 4139 N. Oak Park Ave. and the Taft freshman campus.
The walkway requires about 25 feet of additional concrete so the students will not be walking in mud on rainy days, he said.
Due to congestion in front of the school last year, some parents used the park district lot to drop off and pickup their kids.
Taft teachers also park in the lot, but they must leave by 3:30 p.m. since the sports field is leased by Saint Patrick High School. The Catholic school was an investor in the field’s installation.The next LSC meeting will be held virtually at 6:30 pm. Tuesday, April 13, with links on the school’s Website and Twitter page. The council can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.