Chicago ramps up remote learning on Monday, nearly four weeks after students were first sent home in a bid to rein in the spread of coronavirus statewide. 

For some schools, this new phase will not look considerably different from recent weeks. Many teachers have been in frequent contact with students and provided assignments on an ad-hoc basis. But now, all schools will unveil more formal plans to step up learning from home. The new plans include office hours for teachers, weekly check-ins with students, device distribution for qualifying families, and paper materials for students who don’t have computers or internet access at home. 

Here are answers for common questions families have about the district’s official foray into remote learning. 

How will the district distribute devices to students? 

Chicago plans to loan up to 100,000 devices, though some of them are still on back order. District leaders recently spelled out how schools will set up pickup lines on campuses, taking care to adhere to social distancing guidelines. It is up to school administrators to choose when to distribute the devices. 

The district is taking a different approach from that at other urban districts, such as Boston and Denver, which launched efforts to deliver devices to students’ doorsteps in hopes of minimizing interpersonal contact.

Who will get priority? Can families apply or sign up? 

Priority will go to special education students, English language learners, and students in eighth grade and higher who don’t have devices at home, according to a letter to principals last week from district leaders. 

Dibs also will go to children in temporary living situations and students who are taking online Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment courses at Chicago’s City Colleges and other area institutions, the district said. 

The district will send more devices to schools with the highest percentages of students who  qualify for subsidized lunch or are living in temporary situations. It will also prioritize campuses in the neighborhoods with the highest hardship index — a metric developed by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute that factors in data on unemployment, income, education levels and more.

Families can reach out to their child’s school if they need help with devices.

What about internet access?

The district has said it cannot afford to provide broadband access to all students who don’t have it. Schools are pointing families to programs by providers such as Comcast, which has made an internet service for low-income residents free for 60 days for new customers before charges kick in. Some Chicago nonprofits and officials have called on Comcast and other providers to extend discounts those offers and make the offers more broadly accessible.

What happens if students damage or lose devices? 

Families will not be penalized if devices are damaged, according to the district. But the district is keeping track of serial numbers. Officials have not made it clear what kind of protection or insurance plan it has for its devices.  

Will the district track my student’s attendance?

Chicago Public Schools have not been taking attendance since schools closed last month, and that will not change when the district steps up remote learning. However, schools will start tracking more closely how many students are engaging with their teachers and how extensively. They will also monitor whether students are turning in assignments; those who do not could receive incompletes in their classes though they will get an opportunity to make up missed work after school buildings reopen. 

At Lee Elementary, for example, Principal Lisa Epstein said teachers will track how often they connect with each student and which students submit their work. The school will review this data weekly “to make sure we are hitting all of our students.”

Could my student be asked to take a test?

Yes. But the district has stressed that exams and assignments can only be used to improve students’ class grades during this time. It has said the main purpose of sizing up students’ command of the material will be to guide efforts to get more support and resources to those who need them.

What should I expect if my child has a disability?

The district has vowed that students with special needs will continue to receive support, with general and special education teachers teaming up to adapt remote learning materials to student needs. The CPS Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services has put together answers to frequent questions

Parents groups such as Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education have said families of students with special needs remain hungry for more detailed guidance on how remote learning will work for them and how they can support their students. Access Living, a local disability rights organization, put together important information and resources for remote learning.

How long will students be expected to spend on school work each day?

The district has offered some guidelines on the minimum time students should engage with school work each day: 

  • 60 minutes for preschoolers
  • 90 minutes to students in kindergarten through grade 2
  • 120 minutes in grades 3 through 5
  • 180 minutes for middle school students
  • 270 minutes for high schoolers

But the district has stressed it will not closely monitor time spent on school assignments and hold students accountable. It is also encouraging schools to offer enrichment activities and assignments beyond those time frames.

Will my child risk having to repeat this year’s grade? 

District leaders have said that students will not be penalized for academic issues related to the pandemic, and that families can anticipate students will advance to the next grade. But officials have said they will issue more detailed guidance for students who were not on track to progress or graduate before the outbreak hit. 

I’m a parent who has no idea where to start. Any suggestions?

Reach out to your child’s teachers and give them an honest assessment of what you need. That was advice offered in a recent panel hosted by Chalkbeat Chicago that featured five Illinois teachers. Here are 8 tips they offered families struggling to oversee learning at home.