And the district still fell short.
The elimination of failing grades, which parents, community partners and our members fought passionately for, is the right policy. As I shared two weeks ago, the customary way of grading is inappropriate given remote learning during a global health crisis. There is no reason for any student to receive a failing grade under these circumstances, especially as children and families deal with severe emotional—and even physical—stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thousands remain without access to a computer or the Internet.
There are still, however, areas of disagreement. Giving a mark of “incomplete” to students and requiring summer school will be perceived as the equivalent to a failing grade, and CPS shouldn’t be giving the impression of failure for students who cannot participate in school during a pandemic.
In talks with the district, we stressed that many of our students still lack online access, and that any policy for students without Internet access must not discriminate against them. Their needs should be the baseline and drive policy.
Instead, the CPS grading policy creates a two-tier system where students with digital access can receive grades if it’s in their favor, and students without digital access only have a right to a passing grade or an “incomplete.” This still allows for great inequity, and represents separate and unequal conditions in our district that have led to record school closings, inadequate resources for the neediest school communities, and a digital divide that leaves tens of thousands of students behind.
What more can we do right now to address the needs of students without digital access? How will targeting students who do not have devices or Internet access for summer school play out, especially since it’s likely that summer school will need to be remote as well? The plan for “incomplete” grades will require large-scale summer instruction, yet we have serious safety concerns about reopening schools in July.
The CPS plan, as it stands, is setting up students without online access to do more online work that they cannot access. And these students will be further discouraged because they will feel—whether it’s the intention or not—punished for that lack of access. It’s a half-measure, and the last thing our children in communities like North Lawndale, Chatham, Little Village and Englewood need right now are more half-measures.
We recognize that this year is far from normal. The inequities that made circumstances dire for working families and low-income Black and Latinx communities before have been exacerbated in this crisis as students face increased hardship and trauma. Families continue to struggle with unemployment, inadequate health care and food insecurity. But instead of addressing the problem, CPS doubles down on the inequity and reinforces the inequalities. That’s not right. That’s Jim Crow. But that’s CPS.
Remember, this is the same district that forced our members to picket lines last October because we wanted to help homeless students, and put a nurse and social worker in every school.
Our school communities remain under enormous stress, with everyone continuing to juggle multiple roles. Teachers are leading online instruction, and many are doing so while managing their own children’s remote learning. Parents are at home during a crisis trying to work and assist with lessons. Administrators and staff are reporting to schools every day trying to work and survive without the necessary protective gear.
And our most vulnerable students are suffering. We need to be rewarding children, not hurting them.