Chicago Public Schools proposed a tentative plan for students to return to in-person instruction in the Fall that gives parents an option to opt-out if they have concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Under the framework released by CPS, students would attend classes for two days and remotely the remaining three days. Students would be placed in pods of 10-15 students with assigned arrival and dismissal locations, and eat lunch where permitted inside the classroom. Students would also be assigned which two days they would attend to limit the number of students inside CPS facilities at one time.
This new framework comes as CPS attempts to return its students to some sense of normalcy in the Fall while trying to prevent further spread of the virus. As an employee of Chicago Public Schools, this sounds good in theory. However, is this a genuinely feasible plan? CPS states that they have put stringent cleaning and sanitation measures in place for all of its buildings and that PPE equipment will be available daily for all students, but will that be enough to keep everyone safe?
For CPS employees like myself who work with Preschool children ages 3-5, how are we supposed to ensure they maintain 6 feet from us and one another? How are we supposed to explain a pod to them? Preschool children are explorers, exploring everything and everyone around them. It’s how they learn and develop critical thinking and social-emotional skills. Exactly how does one explore inside a pod? Before the pandemic hit handwashing was a skill most struggled with remembering, so how are we supposed to drive the dire importance of it to them now from inside of a pod? I can tell you now that ten preschoolers kept inside a pod will be utter chaos and a COVID-19 Petri dish filled with sneezes, dirty hands, and soiled masks. If the masks even stay on past the first 5 minutes of class.
The same can be said for Kindergarten and 1st grade. This type of hybrid learning isn’t possible in primary grades and will also be a struggle for intermediate and middle school. I understand that everyone wants things to return to normal, but the normal we once knew is no longer. It is not worth the health of our children and school staff to push some political agenda. If CPS follows this model, there will be a massive spike in new Corona Virus cases, and our children will bear the brunt of it. Please understand that we miss our students. We miss their smiling faces. We miss talking with them face to face every day. We want to return to them, but we want it to be safe to do so. For them, for us, and our country.
Paula J. Shelton is a freelance writer living in Chicago. Follow her on social @beboldshineon.