The Illinois State Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution in support of an upcoming declaration from State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala making it a requirement that schools reopen their doors in the fall, with only limited options for remote learning.
“This plan begins to transition us toward a future in which we are no longer under a gubernatorial disaster proclamation and the pandemic-related remote learning statutes no longer apply,” Ayala said in a letter Tuesday before the board vote. I am deeply grateful for the efforts of every Illinoisan that have gotten us to this point.”
According to the resolution, all schools statewide “must resume fully in-person learning for all student attendance days,” while remote learning options will only be made available “for students who are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and are under a quarantine order by a local public health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health.”
ISBE spokesperson Jackie Matthews said the resolution passed Wednesday itself does not mandate any policy changes, but rather supports a declaration requiring in-person learning that Ayala is planning to finalize at the end of the current school year, “subject to favorable public health conditions at that time.”
In her letter, Ayala did add that school districts that want to continue offering remote learning to students “on an individual basis” may do so “if that will best meet the student’s learning needs.”
ISBE in the resolution notes that “barring any unforeseen setbacks and changes in public health conditions,” Illinois is on track for a full reopening next month, which will allow for, among other things, public gatherings of all sizes.
The board also noted that nearly all school districts statewide have already resumed some form of in-person learning, and the $7.8 billion in pandemic relief coming from the federal government will be used, in part, for “the safe return to in-person learning.”
“Multiple studies show that — although online classes are a far better option than no classes at all — students, particularly students who struggle academically, still learn better while in person alongside their teachers,” the resolution states. “Reconnecting with teachers and peers in-person is essential for students’ mental health and social-emotional development, especially after the prolonged isolation of the pandemic.”
ISBE said that federal funding will also go toward “tutoring, summer school, and community partnerships for mental health” to address learning gaps caused by the pandemic.
The resolution states students and staff have access to “meaningful protection” from COVID-19, through “three highly effective vaccines” that are now available to state residents over the age of 12.
Following the board’s vote Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union spokesperson Chris Geovanis said it’s “critical that we engage families directly this summer to hear what they need and take steps to meet those needs this fall.”
“We look forward to working with (Chicago Public Schools),” she said, “to ensure that by August, every school has effective ventilation, mask policies and other layered mitigation tools parents and families need to feel safe returning their children to buildings for in-person learning.”
CPS has provided opportunities for any interested K-12 student to return to in-person learning this school year, and outgoing CEO Janice Jackson has said she believes that a full reopening should be a requirement in the fall.
In a statement Wednesday, CPS spokesperson James Gherardi said the district is “pleased that ISBE is guiding districts to provide five days a week of in-person instruction.”
“This is what the district has been working towards,” he said, “and there seems to be a consensus at all levels of government that opening schools full-time in the fall is a critical priority."
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