UPDATE: This article was revised at 9 a.m. ET Monday to add a statement from District 65 spokeswoman Melissa Messinger to The Western Journal.
A Chicago-area school district is planning on reopening its classrooms for in-person learning but is reportedly giving students of color the first opportunity to return.
On July 22, School District 65 announced that it would reopen its schools, if it is safe to do so, for in-person instruction on Sept. 29, the Evanston Round Table reported.
Deputy Superintendent Latarsha Green said these groups include “students receiving free or reduced lunch, Black and Brown students, students who received an I [Incomplete] or less than 50% on their report cards, emerging bilinguals and students with IEPs,” according to the Evanston Round Table.
“We are in a pandemic. And we also know that everyone is affected by this differently,” Superintendent Devon Horton said, according to the report.
“But there was a pandemic before this,” Horton said. “That was inequity and racism, and classism and all of these other things. And so I just want to make sure that as we’re making a decision — no decision is going to make everyone happy — we understand that.”
He added that the school district wanted to make sure that students who have been oppressed are given the opportunity.
“I’ve heard for quite some time that this is a community that’s about equity for Black and Brown students, for special education students, for LGBTQ students,” Horton said.
“We know that this is important work, and we’re going to prioritize that.”
The priority decisions might come into play because the district is not forcing its teachers to work on-site, so some school buildings will not be able to accommodate all students.
The Western Journal asked school district spokeswoman Melissa Messinger about the policy.
“Thank you for reaching out to clarify,” she said in an email. “We don’t yet know whether or not we will have to limit the number of in-person seats. We are still gathering the data and putting the puzzle together on building capacities, staffing, family selection of preferred learning pathways. We hope that we are able to safely welcome back every child whose family has indicated preference for in-person learning. If we are unable to accomodate all of these families, it may be necessary to prioritize students for return based on need, which includes those from historically marginalized communities.
“This decision would align directly to the guidance released by the Illinois State Board of Education in using an equity lens to implement and transition into blended learning. This was also a top idea recommended by our Community-based Task Force this summer. As a community deeply committed to educational equity, we will continue to root our decision-making on how to best serve our most vulnerable student populations.”
The Trump administration has been pushing for schools to reopen for in-person instruction as usual in the fall.
“It is our firm belief that our schools are essential places of business, if you will; that our teachers are essential personnel,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said July 24 at a news briefing.
Vice President Mike Pence added at a speech at Marian University in Indianapolis that “opening up our schools again is the best thing for our kids,” VOA News reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also published an article on July 23 about the importance of reopening schools and giving children the opportunity to return to school safely.
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