Young kids bundled in winter coats, hats and gloves held their parents’ hands as they walked into school for the first time this year.
For a few moments this morning, Chicago Public Schools resembled normal times at a handful of buildings around the city.
But as thousands of students went back to their classrooms for the first time during the pandemic, a step that could begin a return to normalcy for many, another reality met them on the inside.
Some 6,000 preschoolers and special education students with complex disabilities are expected to be in classrooms to start the week, representing a fraction of the 77,000 children who are set to take part in the city’s phased-in resumption of in-person learning. CPS has ordered about 4,300 teachers and staff back to schools today, though it’s unclear how many will show up. More than a third of employees refused to work in-person last week; those who don’t show up this week won’t be paid, CPS has said.
Masks and social distancing have replaced the familiar atmosphere children are used to finding in their schools, while pre-kindergarten students are likely experiencing school for the first time in these pandemic conditions.
Thousands of teachers and families, meanwhile, continue to protest that the resumption of in-person learning is coming too soon as coronavirus infections continue to spread.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which has gone all out in trying to delay this day, is planning several demonstrations around the city.
Fear, hope and uncertainty all were present as teachers and children returned to Suder Montessori Magnet School on the Near West Side.
Teacher Celine Guerrero had difficulty getting the words out.
“I don’t know how I feel right now,” she said. “I really don’t have any words. I want to be here for my students, but I also have three young children at home and I’m afraid to go home later.”
She said she’s done her best to get her classroom clean and otherwise ready, with the help of her teaching assistant.
“I’m torn, I’m just very torn,” Guerrero said.