In person at last: U-High students return to campus March 8


Midway file photo

The Faculty Association filed a request for an injunction with the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 4 requiring the University of Chicago to engage in good-faith negotiations about the return to in-person learning. 

After nearly a year in distance learning, the long-awaited announcement has arrived. Students in grades 6-12 will return to in-person classes March 8 using a hybrid model, as announced in an email from Interim Director David Magill on Jan. 25. 

The administration will host an information session for high school parents Feb. 4 from 4-5 p.m.

In his letter to the community, Mr. Magill wrote that many details about hybrid learning remain to be finalized in the coming weeks. He also wrote that Lab will continue with distance learning for any students who choose not to return in person for health or other reasons.

The decision was announced the same day as phase 1b of vaccine rollout began, meaning teachers are eligible to receive initial doses along with people 65 and older and “frontline essential workers” such as first responders and workers in the postal service, grocery stores, agriculture, transit and more.

Laboratory Schools teachers and staff will receive the first dose of vaccine via UChicago Medicine within the next two weeks. 

“The news that the vaccine was available for all the adults really allowed us to move forward in bringing people back in school,” Principal Paul Beekmeyer said in an interview. “Since we went remote a year ago, bringing people back has always been in the works.”

The announcement arrived as parents have been increasingly placing pressure on school administrators to offer in-person classes in some form, as several other Chicago independent and parochial schools have done. A group of parents circulated a petition over the weekend which was signed by more than 200 others.

According to Mr. Beekmeyer, wearing masks and remaining six feet apart during class and eight feet apart while eating will be crucial in keeping everyone safe, and allowing online learning to continue.

“The move to hybrid will be a community effort, and students will definitely be an important partner in making sure that we can do this well and continue to keep everyone safe,” Mr. Beekmeyer said.

The full text of Mr. Magill’s email is included below.

Dear Lab Families,

We are very pleased that both at home and across the country we are seeing a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. We can all take great comfort that the nationwide vaccination process has begun and in Illinois, N–12 teachers are included in the 1b phase, which began today.  We benefit greatly from being part of the University of Chicago which is prepared to support vaccine distribution during Phase 1b (including for Lab faculty and staff), in close coordination with CDPH and UChicago Medicine. 

On Friday we wrote to the families in our Lower School about our goal of returning those students to campus at the end of February, and asking them to formally commit to either our in-person or fully remote program. Today, I am thrilled to share that we are also planning to bring back our students in grades 6–12, safely, for in-person learning using a hybrid format starting on March 8. As we have done for grades K–5, Lab will be prepared to support MS and HS students who, for health or other reasons, must remain in a fully remote program through the end of this school year.  As part of our return, we are also considering what needs to occur for students in grades N–2 to return to full class cohorts at Earl Shapiro Hall. 

To be certain, we have many details to sort out and we are all committed to doing what is right and safe for our children’s health and wellbeing. We know you will have many questions. Our Middle and High School administrators will be holding Parent Connect sessions next week to share more information. 

Middle School Parent Connect, Thursday, February 4, 5–6 p.m. Register here. 

High School Parent Connect, Thursday, February 4, 4–5 p.m. Register here. (This session replaces the one planned for January 28. If you had already registered you need not do so again.)

We will continue to keep you informed as we work closely with University of Chicago health and other experts and with the Lab Faculty Association. In the meantime, should your family be residing outside of Illinois, please plan accordingly so that you can follow all State and City guidelines about travel and related testing and/or quarantines. We look forward with great pleasure to this return to campus and being together as a school community. 

With respect,

David W. Magill