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Deadline Arrives For CPS Parents To Choose Between Remote Learning And In-Person Classes To Start 2021

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's decision day. If you're a Chicago Public Schools parent or guardian, there's an important deadline today. It's the last day to decide how your children will be learning in the third quarter of the 2020-21 school year. Meantime, the Chicago Teachers Union is again seeking an injunction that could potentially delay the district's reopening plan.

CBS 2's Mugo Odigwe spoke with a parent about the plan.

Come January next year, South Loop Elementary School will have some students learning inside; at least that's the district's plan for now.

One parent said she's just not comfortable sending her kids back to school yet, and she's not alone.

"Anytime I even say, 'Oh, we're just going to go for a walk,' or 'Don't you want to go for a ride today? they're like, 'But what about COVID mommy?' So I can't imagine how they would be in school," Dior woods said.

Woods has 7-year-old twin first graders who attend South Loop Elementary, but because of the pandemic they've been learning from home --

Come next year, her plan is to keep things that way.

"They're not comfortable going even going back to school. They feel like they can't be fully themselves with their peers, so they'd rather just stay at home and do at-home learning," Woods said.

Meantime, the Chicago Teachers Union said it is seeking an injunction from the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, to require CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to negotiate with the union over enforceable safety standards before school buildings reopen, calling the district's reopening dates "arbitrary."

"The Union is also calling on the district to put real resources behind safety protocols — from personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 screening, testing, contact tracing and vaccination, to a nurse in every school, smaller classes that allow for social distancing, social and emotional supports for traumatized students, and true upgrades to make ventilation safe," the union said in a statement.

CTU said their demands are necessary to provide a safe and equitable environment for students and teachers.

"CPS has stonewalled us for months as we've been trying to bargain enforceable safety standards for our district-run schools," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. "We want our schools open as well, but we want it done safely, and not on the backs of the majority Black and Latinx students we serve."

The union said CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have also failed to prioritize necessary changes to improve remote learning, with tens of thousands of students still struggling to get sufficient Internet access and working computers or tablets.

"Everything about what they are doing is wrong," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. "Teachers, clinicians, paraprofessionals are all being backed into a corner because they want to provide guidance and support for safety, but CPS and the mayor have decided to go it alone, which means they're not centering the needs of our most vulnerable students because they refuse to engage."

CPS said it has met with the union nine times since Nov. 1, but the union has not provided specific proposals or suggested specific improvements to the district's reopening plan.

The district also said multiple studies have shown schools can safely open during the pandemic with proper mitigation efforts.

"The district has been in discussions with the CTU since the beginning of the closure and has transformed schools' health and safety protocols to ensure schools are safe and ready to welcome students. With disparate rates of attendance and participation in remote learning, our black and brown students are facing an unprecedented educational crisis that has the potential to reverberate for decades. This is not the fault of  our families or their teachers - this is the result of dire circumstances, which we are positioned to improve by safely offering in-person learning," CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in an email. "Given the learning loss and missed opportunities for our children, the discussion can no longer be focused on whether or not to reopen but how to do so safely. Numerous studies and data from schools in Chicago and throughout the country have shown that classrooms can safely reopen with proper mitigation strategies, and we must open our doors in order to counter the dire educational consequences for students who need support the most."

In November, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board denied an earlier CTU request for an injunction requiring CPS to negotiate with the union over reopening terms, but said it would reconsider the request when the district set a specific date for students and teachers to return to school buildings.

CPS has said it plans to have students begin heading back to the classroom next month.

Pre-k and some special education cluster programs are scheduled to start in-person classes on Jan. 11. All other students from kindergarten through 8th grade are set to resume in-person classes on Feb. 1.

But parents can decide whether or not to send them to school buildings, or continue with remote learning.

The district says if you're on the fence, pick in-person learning. You can change your mind at any time. Parents who pick at-home learning cannot change their mind later.

Woods said us a large percentage of the parents she knows are opting to keep their kids at home.

"I want to say it's about 70-30 from what I'm hearing," she said. "Some parents, I mean they have to be at work, so they're ready to send them off. And then there's others like me, so they don't even go out the house unless for essentials."

Now that her kids have gotten the hang of remote learning, she sees no reason not to stick it out.

"If we've made it this far, a few more months until they figure out exactly what's happening is not going to hurt," Woods said.

Monday is the deadline for CPS parents to decide between remote and in-person learning for the third quarter.

Even with some students heading back to school, the district says high schoolers will continue learning at home for now.

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