Students can return to the classroom this fall, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday.
“Classroom learning provides necessary opportunities for our students to learn, socialize, and grow. The benefits of in-person instruction can’t be overstated,” Pritzker said during a press briefing.
Schools have remained closed since mid-March when there were only 46 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. Initially, officials ordered a two-week closure, but in April, Pritzker announced that all public and private schools would remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year because of the pandemic.
Illinois remains on track to enter phase four of the governor’s reopening plan on Friday. Schools are permitted to reopen in that phase if they abide by guidance developed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which requires the use of appropriate personal protective equipment, including face coverings, and social distancing whenever possible.
In order to help schools meet requirements for that equipment, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency will provide public K-12 school districts with 2.5 million cloth face masks for students and staff, Pritzker said.
In addition, gatherings of more than 50 people in one space will be prohibited, according to IDPH. Schools must conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks or require self-certification that individuals entering school buildings are free of symptoms. Increased schoolwide cleaning and disinfection are also required.
The guidance released by IDPH and the Illinois State Board of Education was developed in collaboration with 56 educators, superintendents, nurses, social workers and other stakeholders, according to Pritzker’s office.
Each school district and university will develop and implement reopening plans that meet the needs of their communities and the children they serve, Pritzker said.
A Chicago Public Schools spokesperson said the district will work closely with the city of Chicago and Chicago Department of Public Health to ensure schools are able to safely reopen.
“Chicago Public Schools is eager to open its doors to students as soon as it is safe to do so, and the district is gathering feedback from families and staff to inform draft reopening guidelines for our schools,” CPS said in a statement. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students, staff and families, and we remain committed to widespread engagement to ensure our plan for reopening supports the diverse needs of our entire school community.”
Both Pritzker and Illinois State Superintendent Carmen Ayala said schools should be prepared to return to remote learning in the event of a surge in cases.
“This fall will not be ‘business as usual,’” Ayala said. “ISBE encourages schools to maximize in-person instruction for all students (and that) may require creative scheduling.”
The Chicago Teachers Union criticized that guidance. A statement from CTU President Jesse Sharkey reads, in part:
“Today’s guidance from ISBE is both too general and too vague to serve as a useful road map for CPS. In short, we’re going to be required to figure out many of the most critical features of school work for ourselves, in bargaining.
“Science increasingly shows that the virus is spread mainly through people breathing on each other for prolonged periods of time. Unfortunately, so much of traditional school involves exactly that practice.
“Keeping us safe will require more than just hand sanitizer … having a nurse in every building every day is more important than ever.”
ISBE received $569 million in federal funding from the CARES Act for K-12 education; approximately $512 million will go directly to school districts to address local needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining $54.1 million will be used to provide additional funding to schools for laptops and tablets, internet connectivity, virtual coaching for teachers, professional development and support for entities who can’t receive direct funds due to Title I ineligibility, according to Pritzker’s office.
Local schools must apply to ISBE to receive funding from the CARES Act and the amount they receive will be based on the number and percentage of low-income students served, according to the governor’s office.
On Tuesday, the Illinois Board of Higher Education also released guidelines for colleges and universities to reopen in the fall, which include social distancing, hand sanitizing stations, face covering requirements and regular monitoring of students for COVID-19 symptoms.
According to the governor’s office, higher education institutions are developing policies around traffic flow, cleaning of public spaces and staggered schedules for the use of laboratories, auditoriums and other group facilities.
Illinois community colleges are also developing plans for in-person learning this fall. Guidelines from the Illinois Community College Board include face covering requirements; health screenings of employees, students and visitors before each campus visit; and social distancing measures.
Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources
Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including:
—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick
Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue
If you think you have COVID-19:
Call your doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
—Illinois’ COVID-19 website
—Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IDPH COVID-19 email link
—City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link