CPS, give high schools the scheduling flexibility to meet students’ needs in a global pandemic!


As of January 2021, high school students in Chicago Public Schools have been remote learning for nine months—with no imminent plan for a return to buildings. In view of the fact that 100% in-person learning may very well not occur at all this school year for high school students, CPS should be doing everything in its power to make remote learning as positive and supportive an experience as possible.

A flexible schedule that supports students’ mental and physical health and their academic success should not only be permitted, but encouraged at all CPS high schools as a zero-cost way to improve remote learning and support students—one that has been implemented in numerous suburban high schools this year.

You can use the form here to send a letter urging CPS leaders and the Chicago Board of Education to allow high schools that meet the state’s number of required clock hours of learning activities to provide flexible daily schedules to best meet students’ needs.  

Chicago youth are in the midst of living through a global pandemic and the resulting social, political and economic upheaval. Many are now coping with heavier demands than ever beyond the realm of school: helping their families with paid employment and childcare, on top of coping with the traumatic loss of loved ones to COVID-19.

In order to alleviate the unique stress of online learning in a pandemic, all students need intentionally-structured time away from their screens during the week. This time would afford students the opportunity to catch up on homework and get help from teachers, but also be off screens for exercise, outdoor time and self-care.

In addition to class time, high school students have no choice right now but to also spend hours on screens after school and on weekends to complete homework assignments as well as fulfill other responsibilities (college applications, studying for SAT and AP exams, service hours, extracurricular activities, etc.). For some students, their school experience has become filled with stress, anxiety, and depression accompanied by loss of sleep, loss of appetite, eating disorders, manifestations of OCD, suicidal ideations, etc. They also report inability to focus, reduced attention span, loss of engagement, eye strain, neck strain, back strain, and overall fatigue.

In contrast to CPS, numerous suburban high schools, including Evanston Township, Highland Park, and Niles, have set aside one full day per week for asynchronous activities including provision of supports and services pursuant to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 Plans, homework, teacher office hours, extra-curricular meetings, social-emotional learning, and self-care. For students hanging on by a thread, this time to recharge and regroup can be the only thing keeping them afloat. As a result, students report improved focus and engagement on the other four days as well as improved mental and physical health. One day off from synchronous learning equates to better learning the other four days.

But CPS has said high schools must have at least four hours every day of live aka synchronous video instruction. Some schools were prevented from scheduling a wholly-asynchronous flex day into their week at the start of the school year, and some that have had a flex day schedule during first semester are now being forced by CPS central office to discontinue it. (Read testimonials from students about the loss of a flex day at one school here.)

For all these reasons, we urge CPS to give every high school the full flexibility allowed by the state of Illinois to design a schedule with the input of its school community that truly meets the needs of its students in this time of unprecedented difficulties.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education's “Fall 2020 Learning Recommendations” (pp. 20-21) the state requires five hours a day of learning activities and recommends a total of 750 minutes per week of live instruction: “Districts can be flexible in determining how to best meet the requirement in their own context by counting all learning activities toward the five clock hour expectation[...] All learning activities may include, but are not limited to, in-person learning, the teacher delivering instruction via recorded video or synchronous (live) platform, remote small group work via breakout room or conference call, independent/flexible student work time, and virtual/telephone teacher-student check-ins.”