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Chicago Public Schools suspends meal distribution program because of "evolving nature of activity"

Chicago Public Schools said Monday it is suspending its meal distribution program due to what it called "the evolving nature of activity across the city." Thousands of families have depended on the  program during the coronavirus pandemic, and CPS announced the suspension just hours after its CEO offered assurances that the free meals would continue.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson released a letter Sunday addressing the weekend's protests in Chicago and nationwide in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The letter included a note that the public school system "will continue to provide free grab-and-go meals for all students."

"We are here for you today, and we will be here for you tomorrow," Jackson wrote. "Together we have a responsibility to ensure each day is safer, fairer and more just than the last."

But CPS announced a reversal just hours later.

"Based on the evolving nature of activity across the city, we are suspending grab-and-go meal sites and all other school and administrative office activities tomorrow, 6/1," CPS posted on its social media pages late Sunday. "This decision was made out of an abundance of caution and in recognition of the potential challenges families and staff could face trying to reach school buildings and offices tomorrow." 

The statement said staff would work from home on Monday and students will continue remote learning. Previously scheduled meal deliveries would still be completed. 

In an update on Monday, CPS said it is "closely monitoring the situation" with hopes of resuming free meals on Tuesday. "We know our families are counting on us and we're going to do everything in our power to continue supporting them," it said.

The CPS program has given out more than 12.5 million free meals during the pandemic, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Chicago Teachers Union criticized the suspension.

"CPS is already forcing children living in areas of extreme unrest and trauma into remote learning tomorrow," the union said in a statement. "Now it's cutting off their access to food."

The suspension came after violence in the weekend's protests led Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to impose a curfew, which the police department could enforce with fines and arrests. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered 375 National Guard troops to help Chicago police, as looting and fires broke out during the demonstrations. 

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