A grim-faced Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school chief Janice Jackson strode Monday through a windowless room in the basement of Chicago Public Schools’ downtown headquarters — the district’s command center for fielding families’ coronavirus concerns.
At desks set up at a social distance from each other — an all-caps message on a whiteboard instructed everyone not to move them — staffers took calls and answered emails.
Since the command center kicked into gear last week, staffers have logged more than 800 calls. Parents have wanted to know everything from how concerned they should be about their children’s possible coronavirus exposure to where they can take kids as a statewide closure begins Tuesday.
“We are really pushing that home is the best place to be,” Sergio Obregon of the district’s health and wellness department told the mayor.
Here are answers to seven of parents’ most pressing questions.
Can I drop off my children at school Tuesday?
No. District officials stressed Monday that the coronavirus-related closures are different from the 11-day Chicago teachers’ strike, when schools were open but minimally staffed. Schools will serve solely as curbside food distribution sites.
“It’s important to know this scenario is unprecedented,” Jackson said. “We are imploring families not to send their children to school.”
The Chicago Park District is offering expanded programming at 18 city parks for families in need of emergency child care, but participation at each site is limited to 50. Here’s the list.
How do I pick up school breakfast and lunch during the closure?
Any time between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays starting March 17, families can grab a three-day supply of breakfast and lunch at any Chicago school, regardless of whether their child attends that school and whether they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
The district is creating pickup spots in front of schools for grab-and-go meals and encouraging families to pick up food once every three days.
“We are limiting social interaction as much as possible,” Jackson said.
Asked about some educators’ concerns that food delivery might help spread the virus, Lightfoot stressed Monday that coronavirus transmission appears to involve close contact with people displaying symptoms, not the casual interaction of picking up packaged food.
About 25 charter campuses also will operate food pickup sites. Here is the full list.
How will the district help students learn while schools are shuttered?
Chicago Public Schools educators have created take-home packets with learning resources for students, in both hard copy and digital formats. The district’s Office of Teaching and Learning also prepared activity packets for each grade that parents can download at cps.edu/enrichmentresources.
While some wealthier suburban districts are offering e-learning options for families, Chicago isn’t set up to offer that districtwide, Jackson has said. Not all students in the district have access to laptops and other devices.
Instead, the focus will be on enrichment and on encouraging families to do what they can at home.
Will my child’s work be graded?
No. The district is following state guidance not to grade assignments given during the closures, but district leaders encouraged parents to keep up with learning at home.
Could schools remain closed past March 31?
Lightfoot said city officials are closely monitoring guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency is discouraging gatherings of 50 or more people through April, though it listed schools as a possible exception. Still, Lightfoot said Monday she could not rule out closures that extend beyond the March 31 date Gov. J.B. Pritzker has set.
“This is an incredibly fluid situation, which is an understatement,” Lightfoot said. “It’s hard for us to predict what will happen two days in advance.”
Some other cities have issued extended closures. New York City schools are closed until at least April 20. Boston schools are closed until April 27.
How do I talk to my children about the closures and coronavirus?
Teachers have navigated the sometimes difficult conversations about coronavirus in their classrooms during the past few weeks. What they have learned may prove instructive for housebound families. Read more here.
How do I get the district to answer my questions?
That’s where the district’s coronavirus command center comes in. You can call 773-553-KIDS from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The district’s goal is to return calls and answer emails the day they are received.